Little brothers can ruin your life.
At least that seems to be the case for Peter Hatcher, the long-suffering protagonist and narrator of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (1972). Peter's life is pretty great: he has loving parents, good friends, and he lives in an apartment building with the best elevator in New York City. But there's one big problem mucking up that cool existence: the aforementioned younger brother, Fudge.
Peter would rather have a puppy.
Yep, his little brother's name is Fudge. And no, he's not an imaginary friend made of chocolate. Because Fudge is such a handful, Peter's mom is always asking him to help her take care of him. Throughout the book, the very real two-year-old Fudge comes up with one way after another to make Peter's life miserable.
Scribble all over his homework? Check.
Refuse to eat unless Peter stands on his head through the whole meal? Check.
Eat poor Peter's beloved pet turtle, Dribble? Check. Gag.
No matter which way you spin it, Fudge can be a pretty exasperating little kid. Worse, Fudge seems to get away with everything.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing gives Peter the space to tell his side of the story and how he feels. That's especially important, because Peter thinks his parents often seem to care more about Fudge's well-being than about Peter's. Peter's just a big zero to them, or so he thinks.
He's just a fourth-grade nothing.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is the first in a series of four books about the Hatcher family. In the hands of the amazing Judy Blume, who's written plenty of famous books about kids and adolescents and sold more than 80 million of them, Peter and Fudge Hatcher come to life. Blume modeled Fudge after her own son when he was a toddler (source), so she knew all about rambunctious two-year-olds. The turtle-swallowing episode was based on a story Blume saw in the newspaper in the 1960s, back in the days when you could buy baby pet turtles in drugstores. (They were banned in 1975.)
Blume manages to perfectly capture Peter's complicated feelings toward his brother, and how adults just don't get it sometimes. By the end of the book, you might feel, like Peter, that you've had enough of Fudge for a lifetime, too. But if not, you can check out the other books about the Hatcher family: Superfudge, Fudge-a-Mania, and Double Fudge.
Does Fudge really ruin Peter's life? Well, let's just say that he makes it very, very interesting. Next time you wish you had a puppy instead of your little brother or sister, check out Fudge.
You'll feel lucky.
Everyone feels like their family is weird, and Peter Hatcher's no exception.
He's got a dad who makes commercials for a living, a mom who's really protective of her younger son, and a little brother who causes just as much havoc as Jack-Jack from The Incredibles—even without superpowers. Worst of all, he gets away with murder, while Peter's blamed for everything. Because he's older and he should know better. Ugh.
Peter's stories about dealing with his brother Fudge are relatable for anyone who's ever tussled with a sibling or fought with their parents. Like lots of kids all over the world, Peter has to live in close quarters with the person who annoys him the most. The frustrating (and hilarious) situations that arise will have you saying, "yep, been there."
But at the end of the day, Peter learns to accept his parents and brother for who they are, just in the same way that his family accepts him. He even misses them while Fudge is in the hospital after having swallowed Peter's pet turtle, Dribble. Missing his family and worrying about Fudge outweigh his anger over the Dribble-eating incident and makes him realize how much he loves them. We can learn a thing or two from the way Peter decides to forgive them all instead of holding a grudge forever. After all, isn't that what families are really about?
If that's not enough reason to care, we have just two words for you: Judy Blume. The author of the Fudge stories is one of the most successful children's and young adult authors ever. She's won tons of literary awards (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing won ten just by itself) and was even named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress. The American Library Association honored her with its Margaret Edwards Award for her distinguished contributions to young adult literature. Trust us, that's a very big deal.
But her awards aren't what make kids love her books; it's what she writes about and how she writes about it. Kids who read her books feel that she totally understands their experience. She knows what it's like to feel jealous of cute baby brothers and resentful of all the attention they get. She understands the reassuring presence of a faithful friend, and what it's like to be bossed around by classmates at school. She knows the pride of being able to care for a pet and how it feels when that pet dies. She's sympathetic to how it seems like being the most responsible kid in the family often just gets you nothing but more responsibilities.
Blume is known for writing about difficult, sometimes controversial topics, and she never talks down to kids or shields them from the tough stuff. For example, think about when Fudge tells Peter that he swallowed Dribble. It would have been really easy for an author to write the story with Dribble found safe and sound behind the sofa or under Fudge's bed or in the cereal box, just a hilarious tease by the mischievous Fudge, haha lolz omg.
Blume doesn't do that.
Fudge has indeed swallowed poor Dribble, who dies on the way down and gets vomited up. It's shocking (and gross), but Blume trusts that kids can handle it. She gives them credit for being able to read about real and important stuff. This book may seem like just a bunch of funny stories about Fudge and his antics, but read between the lines and you'll see that it's really about growing up and all the challenges that come with it.
Best news of all: you never have to stop reading Judy Blume books. Her young adult books are her best, and she's written novels for adults, too. With Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, you're off to a great start in a lifetime of Blume-tastic reading.
Are You There, Judy? It's Us, Shmoop.
Can't get enough of Judy Blume's take on young adulthood? Take a look at her official website and see her full list of books…
The World of Fudge
Fudge (TV Series: 1995-1997) The stories about Fudge, Peter's pesky little brother, were turned into a TV series during the 90s. If you need a dose of infuriating younger siblings who literally swallow your pets (ugh), check it out.
Not Ready for Prime Time
One kid liked the book so much that he made an amateur home movie about Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Check it out.
The Real-Life Fudge
According to an interview, Fudge was based on Judy Blume's real-life son, Larry, when he was a kid. He must have been a very interesting toddler.
Judy Blume says that it's hard to pick her favorite character out of everything she's ever written, but Fudge definitely makes it to the top of the list.
In this interview, Judy Blume talks about her own relationship to books and how they can help kids to confront and understand difficult subjects.
Got a two-hour road trip coming up? Well, you're in for a treat. You can listen to Judy Blume (the author herself) reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing aloud.
In this cover for Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, you can really see just how frazzled Peter is when Fudge is running around and causing trouble.
School Picture Day
Judy Blume's author photo looks like she took it at a school picture day during the 1990s. What a classic backdrop.