Study Guide

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing Themes

By Judy Blume

  • Family

    Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.

    Most of the conflicts in Peter Hatcher's life in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing revolve around his family, and his little brother Fudge in particular. Fudge and Peter are far apart in age (Peter's in the fourth grade, and Fudge is two when the story opens), and they're totally different personalities. Peter's frustrated by the fact that his parents seem to always take Fudge's side, even when his little brother's the one who is wreaking havoc and making messes.

    Peter loves his folks, but he's starting to feel like he doesn't count at all. He's the well-behaved, responsible one, but Fudge gets the most attention. It seems to Peter that they don't appreciate him one bit. It's never smooth sailing in families, even in one as close as the Hatchers. But living with a brother like Fudge brings its own special set of challenges.

    Questions About Family

    1. How do we know that Peter really loves Fudge despite all the trouble he causes?
    2. What common "firstborn" characteristics do we see in Peter?
    3. Do you think that Peter's parents really side with Fudge over him?

    Chew on This

    Peter's a victim of his own good behavior.

    Mr. and Mrs. Hatcher probably wish they didn't have to spend so much time on Fudge and his terrible twos.

  • Friendship

    In Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Judy Blume gives Peter a loyal friend to help him through the tough times at home. Peter lives on the same block as a couple of kids in his class, and his best friend, Jimmy Fargo, is always there to hang out with him. When Peter's paired up for a group project, Jimmy's awfully understanding when Fudge destroys all their hard work. Peter relies on Jimmy and can confide in him about his Fudge problems. No matter how crazy things get at home, Jimmy's there for him to talk to. Sometimes Peter just needs to get out of the house and chill in Central Park. When he and Jimmy go to their own special place in the park, life is pretty great and he can forget about Fudge—at least until the next disaster.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. How does Jimmy support Peter?
    2. Why doesn't Peter want to be friends with Sheila?
    3. Does Fudge have any friends outside of his family?

    Chew on This

    Jimmy can probably cope with Fudge more easily than Peter does, because he doesn't have to live with him 24/7.

    When Fudge ruins their school project, Jimmy shows his true friendship by remaining calm and helping Peter re-do the work.

  • Jealousy

    Sibling rivalry is rampant in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Peter's resentful of Fudge, who seems to get special treatment because he's the baby of the family even though he's busy terrorizing his brother and parents. When Fudge goes to visit their father at work, he gets to be the star in a commercial. And Fudge is always the one who gets presents and attention, while Peter's expected to suck it up and be a big boy. No wonder he's a little jealous.

    Fudge is a little jealous of Peter, too. He's always wanting to be able to do the things Peter does even though he's too little. But Fudge has what Peter wants most: his parents' attention. Sure, it's often negative attention, but Fudge sure gets a lot of Mom time. Peter doesn't want to be two years old again, but it sure seems to have its advantages.

    Questions About Jealousy

    1. Why do you think Fudge gets more attention?
    2. Why isn't Peter chosen for the Toddle-Bike commercial?
    3. Do you think Peter knows that Fudge is a little jealous of him, too?

    Chew on This

    Peter often says that he doesn't like Fudge because he's annoying and gets in the way, but a lot of his resentment has to do with how much attention Fudge gets.

    If Peter did get as much attention as Fudge, he probably wouldn't even like it.

  • Guilt and Blame

    In Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Peter constantly finds himself on the chopping block for things that Fudge did. When Fudge decides to jump off the playground and loses his two front teeth, Peter's the one who gets yelled at for not watching him carefully enough. And when Fudge swallows Dribble, no one seems to blame him for eating his brother's pet turtle. Instead, they all rush to comfort and care for him, leaving Peter feeling left out and resentful.

    Even though she presents it with humor, Judy Blume knows that being made to feel guilty is really hard for kids. Especially for a boy like Peter, who's always trying to do the right thing.

    Questions About Guilt and Blame

    1. Is it really Peter's fault when Fudge gets into trouble?
    2. Why doesn't Mrs. Hatcher ever blame Fudge for messing with Peter's stuff?
    3. Is it really Fudge's fault that Mr. Hatcher ends up losing the Juicy-O account?

    Chew on This

    If Peter's mother didn't demand so much help from him in watching Fudge, he wouldn't get blamed for Fudge's misbehavior.

    Fudge is too young to recognize the consequences of his actions, so he can't really get blamed for anything. (Although we bet that's the first and last time he eats a turtle.)

  • Youth

    There are definitely advantages to being Peter's age: no worries about paying for rent or groceries, no commuting to work on the subway, no paying taxes or dealing with demanding clients. But there are tough parts, too, like getting in trouble with your parents, dealing with super-impossible siblings, or having to work on group projects at school.

    Even though Peter lives a pretty great life in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, with no worries about money or serious family problems, he has problems that all kids go through. That's why Judy Blume has sold 80+ million books: she's able to write in a non-condescending way about the common themes of young peoples' lives, in a way that lets them know that she totally gets it. She really brings the character of the irrepressible Fudge to life. Blume had a rambunctious toddler son herself, and she must have a pretty vivid memory of her own childhood, too.

    Questions About Youth

    1. Why doesn't Peter get to play in Central Park without a friend with him?
    2. How come Peter isn't considered for the Toddle-Bike commercial, but Fudge is?
    3. Is Fudge excited to turn three?
    4. Is Fudge a realistic toddler or is he exaggerated?

    Chew on This

    "Youth" is relative. Peter often feels put-upon and old even though he's only a fourth grader. Compared to his little brother Fudge, he's super responsible and acts more grown-up.

    Even though Peter has to watch over his little brother, he still gets the chance to play like a kid.

  • Injustice

    Things aren't always fair for Peter Hatcher in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. As the older kid, he often has to take the fall for Fudge's reckless actions. He resents having to take a back seat to his brother's needs, especially when he's affected by what Fudge has done, too. How unfair is it that Fudge gets fussed over and cared for when he's eaten Peter's pet turtle and Peter just gets ignored? He should have taken his case to Kids' Court.

    The question of what's fair or unfair in families is a tough one. Parents never treat kids exactly the same, because kids aren't exactly the same, especially when there's a big age difference like in the Hatcher family. But when Peter feels that Fudge gets all the attention while he's doing all the hard work, nothing seems fair.

    Even Judy Blume gets into the act—she named three books after Fudge even though Peter's still the one telling the stories.

    Questions About Injustice

    1. Why do you think Peter's parents pay more attention to Fudge?
    2. Do you think it was fair for Peter's mom to blame Peter for Fudge's accident at the park?
    3. What do you think would make Peter feel more like he and his brother were treated equally?

    Chew on This

    Peter's parents should give each of their kids equal attention.

    Peter's treatment by his parents isn't really unfair—it just seems that way because Fudge needs to be watched every second.

  • Education

    Most of the stories in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing take place within the confines of the Hatcher apartment and are all about Peter's family. But like any nine-year-old, school's a huge part of Peter Hatcher's life, too. He's got school friends and plenty of school projects, and it seems like he's a pretty conscientious student. He puts in a ton of time and energy on his project about transportation in the city.

    What does it get him? More trouble from You-Know-Who. Fudge could use a little educating himself.

    Questions About Education

    1. Does Peter like going to school? Why or why not?
    2. How does Peter like working with Sheila and Jimmy Fargo on the school project?
    3. What would Fudge be like in school? Should they send him to preschool with a warning label?

    Chew on This

    Fudge doesn't intend to ruin Peter's poster; he thinks he's "improving it by writing all over it.

    Even though school can be a drag sometimes, Peter's happy to go because it gets him out of the house and away from Fudge.

  • The Home

    In Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Peter Hatcher and his family proudly call New York City their home. The city might sometimes be unsafe and crowded, but the Hatchers are comfortable and happy there. Peter can skip off to Central Park to play with his friends, and their apartment is limited in square footage but super cozy. Sure, the neighbors may bang on the ceiling when Fudge and his buds are making too much noise, but for the most part, New York City in all its messiness and glory is just where they belong.

    When Judy Blume was growing up, she had a good friend who lived in an apartment in New York with an elevator. You can tell by her description of Peter's home that she thought this was pretty cool.

    Questions About The Home

    1. Do you think that the Hatchers enjoy living in their little apartment?
    2. What elements of New York City does Peter Hatcher love?
    3. How are Peter and Fudge classic New York kids?
    4. Why isn't Peter allowed to go to Central Park by himself?

    Chew on This

    Having Central Park (humongous) as your playground must be awesome—as long as you don't get mugged like Jimmy.

    Peter and Jimmy Fargo don't realize it, but their families are both in New York City because it's where their fathers can have their careers as an ad man and an actor. Those are big-city jobs.

  • Love

    The primary emotion that Peter feels towards his brother, Fudge, in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, is often annoyance—but there's love there, too. Things are hectic in the Hatcher household with a tantrum-loving toddler, and sometimes it's easy to forget that their family is built on love and caring for each other. But we get glimpses all the time in the book about the loving things that the Hatchers do for their kids, like going to the movies with Dad or buying Peter a puppy or making sure that they're safe. Underneath all of that Fudge-y chaos is a loving, stable family.

    Questions About Love

    1. How does Peter show that he loves his little brother?
    2. Does Fudge love his big brother? How do you know?
    3. Do you think that Mrs. Hatcher loves Fudge more than she loves Peter?

    Chew on This

    Mrs. Hatcher's love gets expressed as overprotectiveness.

    Peter talks a good game, but he really loves Fudge to pieces.