I snagged a copy of one of my favorite books at a rummage sale last fall and it sat on my shelf for months. This week, I finally picked it up and have been reading a few chapters each night, both enjoying the book now as an adult and remembering the feelings it evoked to read it as a kid. I’m talking about Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume.
I’m recommending this book for three reasons. First, I write YA fiction about young male protagonists. Second, I think looking back on early reading experiences can lend one perspective on how their reading tastes developed. Finally, it’s a great book.
The story of nine-year-old Peter Hatcher, his turtle, Dribble, and his menacing little brother, Fudge, is told by Peter in a confident, authentic first-person voice. Peter is observant; he understands the people around him, even the adults. He both reports events and reflects on them in a perfectly natural way that always feels genuine. Blume’s book is the lesson anyone writing for kids needs to read.
I can only find one photo of the 1986-printing cover pictured above. My Aunt Judy gave me this for my seventh birthday and it’s the first book I judged by its cover. The colors weren’t bold, the brothers didn’t bear huge weapons, and there was no action figure tie-in. Plus, I’d heard of Judy Blume – she was a girl book writer. Was I getting a girl book because my Aunt Judy was a girl? After it sat around for a month and somehow ended up the only book in the family K-Car, I read it. I loved it. Take that, willful ignorance.
As for subsequent books in the four-volume series (five, if you count spin-off and real treat, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great), I can only speak for the first sequel, Superfudge. It really captures what it’s like to be in sixth grade and noticing girls for the first time. I never picked up the next two, Fudge-A-Mania or Double-Fudge, because it felt like the series was switching its focus to Fudge instead of Peter, and I connected with Peter as a reader. (Edit: I looked up Fudge-A-Mania and the plot is familiar, so I did read it, but it clearly didn’t have the same impression on me as the first two books. Did this happen with age? Fudge-A-Mania came out in 1990 when I was eleven – was I “too old” at this point?)
Maybe I’ll give them a try soon, but please know this – recent boxed sets with all four books have major wording changes, according to user reviews at Amazon: instead of sticking with its 1970s setting and Peter wanting records for Christmas, he asks for an MP3 player. I understand the reasoning behind this, to appeal to today’s young reader, but if I do seek out the rest of these books I’ll be seeking out first or near-first editions.
“Eat it or wear it!”