I first read Judy Blume’s childhood classic Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing back in third grade when my mom volunteered at the Scholastic Book Fair and picked up a Judy Blume boxed set for me at the recommendation of the school librarian. The set included Tales, Superfudge, Blubber,* and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Upon reflection, it was kind of a peculiar combination of books – two mostly comic, if a tad bittersweet, takes on growing up with a younger sibling that always steals the spotlight, a treatise on bullying and size shaming, and an honest, unflinching but sympathetic look at the first female change of life while learning about the Holocaust from survivors – but it also made for a balanced, extremely readable take on the many aspects of childhood. Which was kind of unusual since publishing houses seem to always pigeonhole books as either girl books or boy books. If you’re looking for book gift ideas for kids in third or fourth grade, I highly recommend that particular combination.
But back to Tales, which is supposed to be the subject of this review…
Judy Blume first published Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing back in 1972 and it definitely shows in some aspects of her writing. For example, there is no way any parent would leave a two and a half year old terror under the supervision of three 9-year-olds in New York City’s Central Park without at least a teenage babysitter around. They’d be arrested for child endangerment if they did that now. There is also zero mention of a cell phone or a tablet or even a nintendo. One of the vignettes also revolved around the Dad being unable and/or unused to caring for his children by himself for any extended period.
Tales is a series of vignettes about everyday life told from the perspective of Peter, the self-titled Fourth Grade Nothing. He feels completely overlooked and ignored by all of the adults in his life in favor of his adorable two-year-old brother, Farley (AKA Fang, AKA Fudge). And, honestly, he’s not wrong. I completely understand how his parents in particular would be too exhausted to do much besides deal with Fudge. That kid is a diabolical force of nature.
What makes Tales such a childhood classic is that it is very relatable. It definitely brought to mind the resentment I used to feel toward my younger sibling over his monopolizing of my parents’ attention and energy. I think most young readers would be able to see themselves in this novel still to this day. The dated bits that I referenced above don’t really detract from the story, other than I wouldn’t want nine year-olds to suddenly think it’s okay to go hang out at the park with the dope pushers and muggers (paraphrased from the book). By the end of every chapter, all is good with Peter and his family, as he realizes (again) that yes, his parents do love him, and no, they haven’t forgotten that he existed.
While maybe not the most important of Blume’s books, I think Tales is a good introduction to chapter books and the oeuvre of Judy Blume. Definitely recommend, and maybe even to read it together if there are younger siblings with whom this is an issue. That way you can discuss loving all of your children under the guise of talking about the book.
PS: I’m rating this 4 stars because 3.5 stars isn’t an option. I always round up. 🙂
*PPS: You can read the PattyKates with Special Guest review of Blubber by clicking here.