Are You There Judy? It’s Me, Ally…

“Cuando los lagartijos corren.”

Wolf, from Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume

When I read Tiger Eyes, I had no idea other people added little Spanish into a book written in English. I knew Spanish books existed. My grandma’s Bible was in Spanish, but I never encountered any real Spanish in a book. And especially not a young adult book. And most certainly not a young adult book at my school.

Four little words. “Cuando los lagartijos corren.” This is what Wolf said to Davey when he told her needed to go away for a while. She didn’t know what it meant, so he told her to look it up. I knew what it meant, so I translated for her. Being a book character, she didn’t answer until she figured it out later, but I thought we could totally be friends.

And New Mexico! Hello, Texas neighbor. I certainly never read books set in New Mexico! Back then, I didn’t know a thing about “windows and mirrors” through literature. I did know that watching Maria on Sesame Street and listening to her speak Spanish was one of my favorite parts of the show when I was much younger. I even secretly liked watching it with my younger siblings because, you know, who doesn’t love Maria? Now, she writes her own books, holding up those windows and mirrors for today’s generation, just not on Sesame Street.

When I started my teaching career as a bilingual teacher, I made sure to get my hands on bilingual books for my classroom library. I wasn’t ever aware these books existed, or at least I didn’t have experience with such books, but I was glad to find them. But why were they so hard to find? I now know both the easy and hard answers to this question. The easy answer: There aren’t many authors writing these books. The hard answer: There are authors writing these books, they’re just not getting published for a million reasons disguised as “that’s just not what we’re looking for.”

Well, people are looking for these books. They always have been, but the stories have been held back. Or authors have been discouraged. Or [insert a random reason here, you know the one].

Judy, did your editor give you any push-back for including those four little words, renegade of a writer that you are? Did they suggest you stick to English so that you wouldn’t lose any readers? Was that ever a controversy when your book came out or was it merely the issue of Davey’s father’s death? Was there an issue with Davey having a Spanish speaking boyfriend, because back then, interracial couples were not the norm?

I was just a teen who wanted to read a good book, so I didn’t keep up with things like this. What you impressed on me most were those four little words. A tiny bit of a language I was in danger of losing because it wasn’t “cool” to speak Spanish, so why was it offered as a class in high school? Can I go back with a smidge of wisdom to have the guts to ask hard questions? Would anyone be able to answer them?

Thank you for reading. Will you even read this? If you do, will you write back? Por favor?

Your fan since I was in fifth grade,


Tuesday, March 1, 2022

6 thoughts on “Are You There Judy? It’s Me, Ally…

  1. I’m excited to read your posts again! I love how this post gets me to revisit my memories of reading Tiger Eyes and gets me to think about it through a different lens. What fascinating questions to imagine asking Judy Blume. I wish I could hear her answers. I love how you move from your very specific memory to ideas about the books we offer kids to the larger context of the forces that make that challenging.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This took me back! I read every Judy Blume book including Tiger Eyes. I love that you brought out this important detail that I had completely forgotten about. Like the previous comment I wish we could know what Judy thought of your questions.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Isn’t it amazing how those little rivulets of experience join the river of our “now”. I do hope Ms Blume answers your letter. I wonder, too, if she was aware of the impact just four words could have on a reader, feeling seen in a book. Insightful post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Go, Alice! When I started teaching at the ripe old age of 19 (I was a teacher’s aide,) the same thing happened. Hard to find bilingual materials. Here we are, 48 years later, (you do the math) same thing. Things are slowly coming along. I hope.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post! I have ordered some books via Amazon for the past couple of years for our little school in India, where students have to learn in English but speak Khasi at home and at least three of them have Spanish phrases or words in them, that I can translate as we go through (At the moment via zoom from here in Australia). It’s fun to teach non-English speakers that other languages also exist out there!!

    Liked by 1 person

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