NEW YORK (AP) _ Judy Blume, whose candid children's books have attracted millions of readers and a wave of censors, has been named this year's winner of an honorary National Book Award for contributions to American letters.
``I'm thrilled by this unexpected honor,'' Blume said in a statement Wednesday, when the award was announced. ``We don't write hoping to win awards. We write because we have to _ because of a burning need to share our characters and stories.''
``We're very pleased to have Judy Blume receive the prize, because it is the first time we have given it to a young people's author. She is also someone who gives back a great deal to the community,'' said Deborah E. Wiley, chairman of the board of the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization that sponsors the awards.
The author's many books include ``Deenie,'' ``Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret'' and ``Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.'' In 1986, she sorted through her considerable fan mail and published ``Letters to Judy: What Your Kids Wish They Could Tell You.''
While past winners of the honorary award include Arthur Miller, Philip Roth and Eudora Welty, in recent years the medal has gone just as often to writers of genres once disregarded by the literary establishment. Ray Bradbury, the science fiction master, won in 2000. Stephen King, known for his best-selling horror tales, received the prize last year.
``Having raised two daughters I can tell you how important the work of Judy Blume is. For young people, she is as literary a writer as you can ask for,'' said Jessica Hagedorn, a foundation board member and author of ``Dogeaters'' and several other books.
Like King, the 66-year-old Blume has enjoyed enormous commercial success. Her books have sold more than 75 million copies and have been translated into more than 20 languages. She also founded the Kids Fund, a charitable and educational foundation, and has served on numerous boards, including the Author's Guild and the National Coalition Against Censorship.
However, not all grown-ups have found her work fit for children. Blume is known for dealing explicitly with sex, religion and divorce and her books often have been placed in restricted sections of libraries or pulled altogether from shelves. She responded by editing the compilation ``Places I Never Meant to Be, Original Stories by Censored Writers,'' published in 1999.
Although Blume has received numerous children's books prizes, critics have been divided about her work. Some have found her to be heavy-handed, and others have praised her honesty and accessibility.
``She has convinced millions of young people that truth can be found in a book and that reading is fun,'' Faith McNulty once wrote in The New Yorker. ``At a time that many believe may be the twilight of the written word, those are things to be grateful for.''
Blume, herself the mother of three, will accept her medal Nov. 17 at the 55th annual National Book Awards ceremony, in New York. Nominations for competitive awards will be announced next month.