Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself by Judy Blume

This is an early Judy Blume book about a 10 year old girl living in post war America.  In it, Blume portrays misconceptions that can happen when kids don’t fully understand complicated events and how they fill in what they don’t know with their own ideas.

Sally Jane Freedman likes her life in New Jersey.  She has friends, including a best friend, and her family, mom, dad, older brother Douglas and maternal grandmother, Ma Fanny, all live in relative peace and harmony in a nice comfortable four bedroom home.  Sally has a vivid imagination and is always making up heroic scenarios in which she plays the starring role.  These range from spy missions to Europe to capture the maybe-not-really- dead Hitler, because he is responsible for the deaths of her grandmother’s sister, Tante Rose, and Rose’s daughter, Lila in the Holocaust, to being chosen to be Esther William’s younger sister in a movie. 

But Sally’s life is disrupted when her brother comes down with nephritis.  When he is well enough, everyone except Sally’s dad temporarily move to Miami Beach for Douglas’s continued recovery.  As much as she didn’t like moving, Sally soon adjusts to the new school and makes new friends.

Two things spoil life in Miami for Sally.  The first is her worry about her father back in New Jersey.  Her mother, a perpetual worrier and germ phobe, has been depressed about the fact that her 42 year old husband’s brothers both died at that age.  Once again, Sally had picked up bits and pieces of conversations and has filled in the blanks, causing her to also worry about her dad.  She continuously writes him letters to assuage her fear.

The second thing is Sally’s belief that her elderly neighbor, Mr. Zavodsky, is really a disguised Adolf Hitler hiding out in Miami.  She continuously writes letters to him to let him know she is on to his real identity.  These also assuage her fears, but Sally never mails them, putting them in her keepsake box instead.  But Mr. Zavodsky does unknowingly play a big part in helping Sally come to terms with the war and the Holocaust, both of which she still thinks about frequently.

For the most part, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself is an interesting portrayal of the little everyday things in life, which is why Sally resorts to her imagination to spice things up a little.  The book is a wonderful window through which today’s readers can look at what life was life for a kid in the mid-1940s.  After all, how many of them are familiar with Murphy beds, Margaret O’Brien, Admiral Halsey, a game called Jolly Roger, party line telephones and my personal favorite Potsie (hopscotch to those who live outside of NYC.)   I think that for today’s reader, however, the book could use a glossary or something to help understand these things.  For example, I never heard of a game called Jolly Roger growing up. 

I was very resistant to reading Sally J. Freedman for unknown reasons.  And after I began it, I dragged my feet reading it.  Then suddenly, I couldn’t put it down.  Odd that.  At first, I found it written a little too simply, but soon realized it was just a 10 year old narrative voice, which then seemed perfect.  And Blume maintained Sally’s narrative voice so smoothly, letting the reader see exactly how Sally filled in the blanks to try to understand the world and what was going on around her.  And, without resorting to stereotypes, I thought that the characters and situations were very believable.  I grew up knowing a lot of my friend’s Yiddishe grandmothers and I really thought Blume’s portrayal of Ma Fanny was just spot on.

Judy Blume has said that this is her most autobiographical book.  Many of Sally’s experiences were culled from her own life, including the big part that the war played in her childhood.  And that is precisely what makes it a great story.  Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself is a story that catches a girl as she begins to come of age and it follows how and how much she grows up during one important year of that process.  It is a delightful story and I highly recommend it. 

This book is recommended for readers age 8-12
This book was purchased for my personal library

Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself
Judy Blume
Yearling/Random House Imprint
268 Pages


  1. This was my favorite book as a kid, still my favorite Judy Blume book. It's the book that got me interested in reading about WWII. I actually bought it for my daughter for Christmas. Will link to your review on War Through the Generations.

  2. I am a big fan of Judy Blume's books and this was my favorite book growing up! I really enjoyed reading your post about it and it made me realize that I need to go back and reread it as an adult! I found Sally so easy to relate to and I loved the historical aspects of the book. Thanks so much for sharing this book on your blog and reminding me of an old favorite. So glad you enjoyed it!


  3. This was my number one favourite book as a kid and I have re-read it so many times that the cover is falling off! I can hardly wait to give it to my daughter when she is a bit older (only 4 right now). I think it is great that you wrote about it and I hope a new generation gets to know Sally!!

  4. Anna, Jess and Jennifer, I am also a big fan of Judy Blume and I am glad to know people really liked this book. I thought she did a great job, and of course, because it is a bit autobiographical, it really rings with authenticity.

  5. This sounds like something I would enjoy, so another for my TBR pile.
    Happy New Year.