Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing



By Judy Blume


Published by: Puffin (April 5, 2007)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, audiobook CD, NOOK

At the time of this review there were five books in the Fudge series.


An older chapter book—in so many ways.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, by the great Judy Blume, was originally published in 1972. And those two facts shade just about everything you need to know about this book.

First, the deft, empathetic and insightful writing of Ms. Blume is, of course, a joy. The sentences are short, the emotions utterly tuned in to kid-feel, and the plot a smooth sail from start to finish.

This book for older chapter book readers—this could easily be lumped into early middle grade reading—would be intimidating to newly independent readers. There is almost no extra white space, the type is a small, standard font size and the subject matter touches on some older topics, like getting mugged, dope-pushers, being responsible for a younger sibling and the realization that a parent’s job has consequences based on human relationships. Not really second grade reading material.

But it’s older in other ways as well—as in a tad tired. Plot points hedge on the use of green stamps, and the resolution to a medical crisis is almost unheard of now (Castor oil? Really?). Libraries still carry the original version with illustrations by Roy Doty, and that’s too bad, because the drawings heighten the old-school feel with long out-of-date clothing and hair fashions.

The saving grace is Blume’s adept storytelling ability that hones in on childhood realities that don’t change with fashion: problems with a little brother, problems with parents not understanding or overreacting, and problems with classmates.

Since boy-centric chapter books are still much less available than those with girl protagonists, even as tired as this is, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is still a worthy choice for boys longing to read something in which they can identify.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

4 thoughts on “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

  1. It’s a shame since I loved these books growing up, but I agree with you. Today’s kid readers notice the out-dated bits of these books and sometimes have trouble comprehending them (castor oil was a great example). But the setting isn’t “old enough” to seem like a whole other place and time – as books like the Anne of Green Gables series do. I think the combination of familiar with unfamiliar just doesn’t click with today’s young readers. I saw the same problem with my kids when introducing the Ramona books.

  2. I’d say that’s my biggest surprise in these reviews: that the older books I remember from either my experience or my kids’ elementary years just do not hold up over time. It’s sad. But also points out the need for parents, teachers and publishers to give chapter books more attention, and get the better-suited books in front of today’s kids. Too many times parents say, “Oh, I loved that book!” And the kids are left with, “I’m bored….”

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