Smithsonian Notable Books for Children 2002

Smithsonian Notable Books for Children 2002

Already acclaimed for her sensitive depiction of adolescence in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970), Judy Blume turned her attention 30 years ago, in 1972, to a younger audience in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Her comic account surveys the life and times of Peter Hatcher, a long-suffering 9-year-old saddled with a pesky 2-year-old brother, Farley Drexel Hatcher, a.k.a. Fudge. The chronicle of Peter’s plight has struck a chord with beleaguered siblings ever since.

Blume went on to relay the brothers’ further misadventures in Superfudge (1980) and Fudge-a-Mania (1990). She devoted a related title, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great (1972), to Peter’s runner-up nemesis, Sheila Tubman, the know-it-all neighbor who is, alas, a tenant in his New York City apartment building.

The Fudge books, as the four titles are collectively known, evolved into a wildly successful series, selling 19 million copies in more than 20 languages. For 12 years, faithful readers have clamored for an update on the Hatcher clan. At last, Blume has obliged with Double Fudge, published in October by Dutton. Peter is now 12 and Fudge, a precocious "nearly six."

 Why the hiatus? "The thing about funny books is, they have to spill out spontaneously, or they don’t work," says Blume. "At least that’s how it is with me." The idea for Double Fudge, she adds, came to her when she least expected it.

The author resumes the Fudge chronicles at a juncture when Peter realizes to his dismay that Fudge, even as he prepares to go to kindergarten, remains obdurately annoying. After pitching a world-class tantrum (worth the price of admission) inside a shoe store, Fudge focuses his daunting energies on his current obsession, amassing a fortune. Efforts to deflect him from this impulse—he announces an intention to buy up "Toys ‘R’ Us and Manhattan" and stops strangers to assess their potential as wage earners—meet with signal failure.

 Adding to Peter’s woes, gate-crashing relatives from hell interrupt a cross-country odyssey to camp out in the Hatchers’ cramped apartment. Within hours of their arrival, Peter finds the family zipped into sleeping bags, snoring away on the living room floor: "They slept flat on their backs, like a row of hot dogs in their rolls. All that was missing was the mustard and the relish." Bad enough, but their supine incursion hopelessly cuts off access to the television.

 It takes a minor crisis to convince everyone, especially Fudge, that, as Peter’s understandably weary mother has maintained all along, "the best things in life are free." Blume, as always, has turned the ordinary preoccupations of childhood—sibling rivalry or finding oneself on the wrong side of a parental edict—into high comedy.

Finally, for readers perusing our roundup of titles, including picture books, memoirs and novels, the usual caveat applies: the age categories below are necessarily arbitrary; adjust to the predilections of the individual child.

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