June 1, 2012

Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing/Judy Blume

This is the cover I remember!
Back in the 1970s, when I was in third grade and reading books with chapters (but no pictures), one of the books I found at my school's book fair was Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.  The book was about a boy named Peter Hatcher who was roughly about my age and his obnoxious younger brother known by the nickname "Fudge".  Seriously, it resembled my own life!  An excerpt from Amazon's review reads as follows:

"Peter, because he's the older brother, must deal with Fudge's disgusting cuteness, his constant meddling with Peter's stuff, and other grave offenses, one of which is almost too much to bear."

Judy Blume, to me, had a perfect understanding of what it meant to be me ... a third-grader (almost fourth grader!) with a bratty baby brother that everyone thought was so freaking cute, and could do no wrong as a result.  She spoke to me, and apparently to many other kids, too!

I was absolutely delighted when Judy Blume came out with a sequel to that classic children's book she called Superfudge (at that point, Peter Hatcher all but disappeared from the book's title, since the publishers felt it was more about the bratty kid than it was the tortured older brother), and guess what, when that book came out, I was in third grade, but at an advanced reading level, so the ages fit pretty well, I guess.

Author Judy Blume in 2009
Although the rest of her books were pretty much irrelevant to me because they were mostly about girls (for example, Blubber was about a fat girl), apparently Judy's other books, like Forever dealt with some racy material that really made some conservative parents very uncomfortable, so some activist people in flyover country tried to have ALL of Judy Blume's books banned.  As I understand it, Forever dealt with girls' orgasms while Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret dealt with menstruation.  That prompted discussions in PTA meetings across the country, and I was lucky enough to live in a place that was pretty liberal about things like that, but I do remember a teacher making a comment about how "shocked" she was about the subject matter of Forever.  That comment made the book a runaway bestseller in local bookstores because everyone wanted to read the shocking, forbidden material!

Although my experience with Judy Blume was primarily with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Superfudge, I think her ability to write books that kids of various ages could relate with made her a very popular author, and some of her books remain as popular as they were back in the '70s.

As an author dealing with book-burning and bannings, she was on the front-line of that kind of controversy.  A few years ago, NPR did an interview with her about those issues, as well as what prompted bringing certain elements of her books up-to-date.  That interview may be listened to (or seen) at http://n.pr/KPozHN, or below:

Hearing an interview with Judy Blume is pretty awesome, even if it's been thirty-five years since I read her book(s).  Today, I have perspective on what she, as a writer, dealt with when she became the most popular children's author, dealing with parents who were unwilling to discuss things like sex with their own children and preferred to pretend the subject didn't exist and worked to ban her books instead.  To me, she was just an author who had an incredible ability to express, in writing, things so many children and adolescents were experiencing.  Its pretty awesome to hear her perspective on the experience, why she thinks things new book covers are meant to bring her books closer to a new audience and how those very updates to her books don't ruin "classics", but instead keep them contemporary enough to stay relevant even thirty years later.

What kind of experience did you have with Judy Blume's books?!

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