When I was in elementary school, I wrote an "autobiography" called "I Want to Be Like Judy." It had a pink construction paper cover and came in second in the school library contest. I never imagined that 30-something years later, Judy would say to me, "Let's take a selfie!" (See our virtual tour - link below.) I loved all her books, but "Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself" was one of my very favorites. I read it over and over. Ten times? Fifteen?
Sally finds herself transplanted from Elizabeth, New Jersey to Miami Beach just after the end of World War II. It was a time when so many Jewish families from the Northeast came to spend the school year in our warmer climate. Sally was 10 years old and discovering bugs and the beach and boys. That was Judy Blume's life too, and on November 22, she'll be here, at the Miami Book Fair, to talk about that time.
I loved Sally for the imaginative, if somewhat nervous, kid she was. She was constantly making up adventures in her head, including several about defeating Hitler. This book is part of how I came to understand what the Holocaust was.
What I didn't think about then was that it's also how I came to understand Miami Beach, where I would eventually live. Many years after I first read the book, I looked around and realized I was living in Sally J. Freedman's neighborhood. South Beach (it was called Central Beach then) had been Judy Blume's neighborhood too. She was among all those kids who came down here just after the war, and she describes "Sally J. Freedman" as her most autobiographical book. She didn't even change many of the names.
So I asked her if she'd take a walk with me around her old neighborhood. She said yes, and we spent hours walking between her old apartment building on Pennsylvania Avenue, her old elementary school, Flamingo Park and the beach.
And now we're bringing you "The Sally J. Freedman Reality Tour." You can listen above, and Judy Blume joins me for a live version at the Miami Book Fair International on Saturday, Nov. 22 at 3 p.m., in a new venue called The Swamp, celebrating the culture of Florida.
So read or re-read the book and join us as we discuss "Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself," Judy Blume's Miami Beach and the years she calls the most important of her childhood.