Freckle Juice

freckle juice coverFRECKLE JUICE

By Judy Blume, Illustrated by Sonia O. Lisker


Published by: Yearling; Reprint edition (July 15, 1978)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, library binding



Freckle Juice is all about wanting something and doing something crazy to get it. The protagonist, a second grade boy, is an empathetic character because almost everyone knows, deep in his bones, how it is to want something to distraction. The fact that Andrew wants freckles, and that he is forced to sit behind a boy with a glorious number of freckles (and thus view them every day in school) is a simple but magnificent premise.

Two other characters in this book stand out: a sweet, understanding teacher, and larcenous, greedy, evil Sharon, who absconds with funds through trickery.

The chapter where poor Andrew drinks the despicable concoction that is supposed to sprout the desired freckles is both hilarious and a fun Don’t do it! moment.

A very short chapter book (only five chapters and 47 pages), this is a good read for an older, less adept reader. With small type and slightly more mature sentence structure, older readers won’t feel babyish reading about Andrew and his freckle obsession and consequences. (In fact, Andrew is “not fast” as a reader, which the struggling reader might appreciate.) The brevity also allows readers to gain confidence as they buzz through the whole book fairly quickly.

Originally published in 1971, this chapter book does suffer from some of the older/tired/out-of-date issues that many classic chapter books exhibit. Andrew’s mom, for instance, has curlers on in the morning and tells him she’s been invited to play cards with the ladies during the day. These little hiccups don’t stop the story, though.

Some of the illustrations and their older clothing and style are a little more obviously outdated. But what is even more bothersome is that the original illustrator, Sonia O. Lisker, is barely given credit, even though many of the copies still sold online, in stores and carried in libraries depict her illustrations. To even find her name I had to look on the copyright page. Otherwise, no credit is given to her. Shame on the houses that have published the reprint editions. The artist deserves credit for her work.

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

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….