Published in 1972, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume was a classic long before I was born, though it never felt dated to me. This is the first of the Fudge books, all of which I must have read a thousand times as a kid, yet I didn’t remember much about them but the warm, familiar tone. There aren’t too many details that blatantly date this other than the silly gender roles of the mom as sole nurturer and dad who’s clueless in the kitchen. I was curious to read a book set in Manhattan in the early 70s and couldn’t resist a revisit.
Peter Hatcher’s family lives in a 12th floor apartment on the Upper West Side in a building with a mirror elevator. I remember reading this and thinking growing up in an apartment in the big city sounded so exciting. Ha! Well, the book hasn’t changed, but I have.
Every chapter reads like a vignette: Peter wins a turtle at a birthday party and names him dribble. His little brother Farley a.k.a. Fudge drives him crazy. He wants his parents attention, but an adorable 3-year-old brute is stiff competition. Peters tries to be a good big brother only after his carelessness leads to Fudge getting seriously hurt. Don’t worry, Fudge is fine and lives to know what its like to have a turtle in his belly. The generous spirit of the story acknowledges that children aren’t perfect but in a messy way childhood is.
That this book isn’t plot heavy made it a perfect choice to read out loud with my niece – a few chapters each visit. It’s funny throughout and the voice of 9-year-old Peter is spot on. I think that’s why these books always felt so familiar, Peter’s voice is authentic. To read this is like having a boy sitting next to you and telling the stories of his day that mean something to him.
As for the physical book, I couldn’t find the copy we owned growing up, but the library had a nicely worn edition with an illustrated cover and pages slightly browned around the edges. New editions came out not too long ago with more modern-looking covers (pictured above). I hope these books are reaching a whole new generation.