Sunday, May 12, 2013


As a child, I loved Judy Blume’s books featuring Peter and Fudge and I have found that I still love them as an adult.  I recently re-read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing with a smile on my face, anticipating that moment (the moment I still remember 30+ years later) when Fudge swallows Peter’s turtle.  What makes these books so relatable?  The characters are completely understandable to children and adults.  Their actions are utterly believable.  Peter’s unhappiness and disgust at the adults around him who are completely besotted with Fudge’s behavior is palpable.  The sibling relationship is one everyone who has siblings understands.  Whether a younger child or an older one, we all have those memories of a sibling making us crazy, of a sibling breaking into our room to touch things that are ours, of being blamed for something that a sibling did.  The parents who do not understand us, who give more attention to the other child, who have no sympathy for our wounds when we are clearly devastated is also relatable to children and adults.

This is a story (a series of stories) about a family that is real, a family with real-life problems and real-life situations.  We are completely riveted to the story of Peter and Fudge.  Whether the story is told from the older brother or the younger brother’s perspective (as is done in later stories), we can relate to the angst and the trauma and the ultimate feeling of family that prevails in all of the books.

Judy Blume often broke with tradition in writing her novels.  In her books, Blume often dealt with taboo subjects like divorce, racial equality (as in Iggie’s House), and in the case of Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, a young girl’s first period.  When I think of Blume’s groundbreaking novels, I often think of Blubber.  This book placed a spotlight on bullying when it wasn’t even acknowledged as an issue. 

Ultimately, I think what makes Judy Blume such an incredibly gifted writer is that she takes ordinary events and places a spotlight on them, shining this light on the minuscule moments of existence.  She brings what is taboo or forbidden into the light and allows all of us to experience these things, through the eyes of a child or a pre-teen or a teenager or one on the cusp of adulthood.  We see these events, we experience them through the eyes of a child and we relate, intensely, intricately, profoundly with the lives of the people she has brought to life for us.  How does she do this?  How is she able in one novel, some of them quite short, to make us completely relate to her characters and the events of their lives?

In the case of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, she sinks us into the first person narrative of Peter.  When I compare this novel to Charlotte’s Web, I am amazed at what Blume was able to accomplish in a very short 120 pages, something that E.B. White was unable to accomplish in 184.  E.B. White’s narrative is detached in many ways, distant from the experiences of its characters.  We see them as if from afar.  Even when Wilbur is wailing because he does not want to die, or when Charlotte quietly passes away, we do not feel this viscerally because in many ways, we are not sunk into any one individual’s perspective.  We are kept distant from the narrative, perhaps through the use of its formal and stiff language.

By contrast, Judy Blume has us with Peter every step of the way.  We are not set apart from him.  We are Peter.  We feel with him, we endure with him, we mourn for his turtle with him.  And again, with him, we are outraged that no one, not once, acknowledges the tragedy of his turtle’s loss.  Somehow the gift of a puppy is supposed to make up for the fact that a turtle has died.  No one has any real respect for the life of that turtle.  No one but Peter.  We are gratified with him, when he names his dog Turtle, to remind himself, and perhaps to remind his entire family, of the turtle who once lived in their home and whom Fudge so thoughtlessly consumed.

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