Number 35 on the Top 100 list is one many of us probably read as kids, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (1972) by Judy Blume. And yet, though I know I read it (probably more than once), I apparently only remembered one thing about it and I remembered that one thing wrong. The rest of it was entirely, and strangely, unfamiliar.
What it’s about: Peter Hatcher is trying to deal with the normal things that come along with being nine but he can’t because of one seriously abnormal thing, his two year old brother Fudge.
Age level: Grade 2-4
Best thing: The only scene that I really enjoyed was when Peter and two other students are dividing the work on a group project. It was so familiar and well-written that it easily reminded me of my school days.
Worst thing: I listened to the audiobook version of this story, read by the author, and it was AWFUL. Her voices were so annoying, most of all her version of Fudge who sounded just like Caillou (parents of young ones will know what I’m talking about). At one point, I almost switched to a text copy because I couldn’t stand listening any longer. Then I saw I had just 20 minutes left and suffered through it just to be done.
I know I read the sequel to this book, Superfudge, many more times than I ever read this one so I’m assuming that even as a kid I liked that one better. I would have to reread it now though to find out why because I apparently don’t remember anything about it either. And do you know what? This bothers me because there are books that I read when I was even younger that I remember tons about. It makes me think that these books are ultimately forgettable. Obviously others felt differently, but I wouldn’t have voted for this book. It’s very dated now. Fudge is a nightmare who doesn’t see any real consequences to the things he does and his bad behavior just keeps escalating. The parents are clueless and somewhat stupid, both at home and at work. And Peter isn’t much better, spending more time complaining than anything else.
I really am sad that my sparse but fond memories of this book didn’t hold up on re-read as an adult. I am also questioning why Z’s teacher read the book to them in class as I found very little of value in it. It teaches that parents always give their younger children the benefit of the doubt while their older ones suffer, that bosses are all jerks and you just have to learn to handle them properly and that pets are expendable rather than being treasured members of the family. There are much better books out there, both new and old, that should be shared.
Is this a book that you’ve re-read recently? What was your experience like? Do you read this to your kids/students?
After this sad experience of revisiting this book, I look forward to a first time through my next one — Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. It will be my second of his books and I assume it will be as fantastic as the other.