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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Author Judy Blume’s ‘Fudge’ Turns 40

Author Judy Blume. (Carl Lender/Flickr)

When Judy Blume published her “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” in 1972 she introduced the world to Farley, a.k.a. Fudge, a toddler who makes his older brother Peter’s life miserable.

Fudge gets all the attention, he gets into Peter’s stuff and he can’t resist playing with Peter’s pet turtle, with disastrous results.

Readers have loved the “Fudge” books, though at first, the prospects for the book seemed a little dim.

The first book in the series, “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,” was originally conceived as a children’s picture book, but was rejected by publishers, who said things like “This is really funny, but it teaches little kids to swallow turtles, so we can’t publish it,” Blume told Here & Now‘s Robin Young. Another editor had the idea that it would make a better chapter book for slightly older kids.

Judy Blume is also the author of such landmark books as “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” about a girl coming of age and “Forever” about a teenage couple choosing to have responsible sex.  Both books were widely popular, but both have been banned in various schools and libraries over the years, a move that Blume takes issue with.

“Any parent can say at any time ‘I don’t want my child to read that book’. What you can’t do is say ‘I don’t want that book to be available to children, period’,” she said.

Blume also says she receives a lot of comments on Twitter from men who say “I grew up on those books, I learned everything about girls from reading ‘Margaret’ or ‘Forever.’ I love the idea of boys reading about girls and girls reading about boys.”

Book Excerpt: “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing”

By: Judy Blume

The Big Winner

I won Dribble at Jimmy Fargo’s birthday party. All the other guys got to take home goldfish in little plastic bags. I won him because I guessed there were three hundred and forty-eight jelly beans in Mrs. Fargo’s jar. Really, there were four hundred and twenty-three, she told us later. Still, my guess was closest. “Peter Warren Hatcher is the big winner!” Mrs. Fargo announced.

At first I felt bad that I didn’t get a goldfish too. Then Jimmy handed me a glass bowl. Inside there was some water and three rocks. A tiny green turtle was sleeping on the biggest rock. All the other guys looked at their goldfish. I knew what they were thinking. They wished they could have tiny green turtles too.

I named my turtle Dribble while I was walking home from Jimmy’s party. I live at 25 West 68th Street. It’s an old apartment building. But it’s got one of the best elevators in New York City. There are mirrors all around. You can see yourself from every angle. There’s a soft, cushioned bench to sit on if you’re too tired to stand. The elevator operator’s name is Henry Bevelheimer. He lets us call him Henry because Bevelheimer’s very hard to say.

Our apartment’s on the twelfth floor. But I don’t have to tell Henry. He already knows. He knows everybody in the building. He’s that smart! He even knows I’m nine and in fourth grade.

I showed him Dribble right away. “I won him at a birthday party,” I said.

Henry smiled. “Your mother’s going to be surprised.”

Henry was right. My mother was really surprised. Her mouth opened when I said, “Just look at what I won at Jimmy Fargo’s birthday party.” I held up my tiny green turtle. “I’ve already named him . . . Dribble! Isn’t that a great name for a turtle?”

My mother made a face. “I don’t like the way he smells,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I asked. I put my nose right down close to him. I didn’t smell anything but turtle. So Dribble smells like turtle, I thought. Well, he’s supposed to. That’s what he is!

“And I’m not going to take care of him either,” my mother added.

“Of course you’re not,” I told her. “He’s my turtle. And I’m the one who’s going to take care of him.”

“You’re going to change his water and clean out his bowl and feed him and all of that?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “And even more. I’m going to see to it that he’s happy!”

This time my mother made a funny noise. Like a groan.

I went into my bedroom. I put Dribble on top of my dresser. I tried to pet him and tell him he would be happy living with me. But it isn’t easy to pet a turtle. They aren’t soft and furry and they don’t lick you or anything. Still, I had my very own pet at last.

Later, when I sat down at the dinner table, my mother said, “I smell turtle. Peter, go and scrub your hands!”

 

Some people might think that my mother is my biggest problem. She doesn’t like turtles and she’s always telling me to scrub my hands. That doesn’t mean just run them under the water. Scrub means I’m supposed to use soap and rub my hands together. Then I’ve got to rinse and dry them. I ought to know by now. I’ve heard it enough!

But my mother isn’t my biggest problem. Neither is my father. He spends a lot of time watching commercials on TV. That’s because he’s in the advertising business. These days his favorite commercial is the one about Juicy-O. He wrote it himself. And the president of the Juicy-O company liked it so much he sent my father a whole crate of Juicy-O for our family to drink. It tastes like a combination of oranges, pineapples, grapefruits, pears, and bananas. (And if you want to know the truth, I’m getting pretty sick of drinking it.) But Juicy-O isn’t my biggest problem either.

My biggest problem is my brother, Farley Drexel Hatcher. He’s two-and-a-half years old. Everybody calls him Fudge. I feel sorry for him if he’s going to grow up with a name like Fudge, but I don’t say a word. It’s none of my business.

Fudge is always in my way. He messes up every thing he sees. And when he gets mad he throws himself flat on the floor and he screams. And he kicks. And he bangs his fists. The only time I really like him is when he’s sleeping. He sucks four fingers on his left hand and makes a slurping noise.

When Fudge saw Dribble he said, “Ohhhhh . . . see!”

And I said, “That’s my turtle, get it? Mine! You don’t touch him.”

Fudge said, “No touch.” Then he laughed like crazy.

Used with permission by Puffin Books, an Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © Judy Blume, 1972 All rights reserved.

Guest:

  • Judy Blume, author

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Jim

    Isn’t it a false argument and disingenous to suggest that librarians and teachers are “standing up for the children” when defending your work or other controversial authors?  Isn’t what activist librarians and teachers really standing up for is your (and evidently their) personal belief of how sensitive topics should be discussed….as opposed to how the community feels these topics should addressed in raising their children into adulthood?

    • Elizabeth Bentley

      That makes it sound as though “the community” has a single view of what is appropriate. The point is that no-one has a right to speak for others in the community, since the community is made up of many individuals, witha whole spectrum of opinions.

  • Janet Ruth Heller

    Thank you for doing this interview.  Judy Blume is a brave and taboo-breaking author.  I have admired her books for a long time, and I discuss them when I teach literature for children courses. 

    Best wishes!
    Sincerely,
    Janet Heller, author of the award-winning book for kids about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Sylvan Dell, 2006)
    Author of the poetry books Folk Concert:  Changing Times (Anaphora Literary Press, 2012) and Traffic Stop (Finishing Line Press, 2011)
    Author of the scholarly book Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and the Reader of Drama (University of Missouri Press, 1990)

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