Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing

The Judy Blume Effect

Do you have a favourite children’s book? One that you still remember from childhood and you’re happy to read over and over to your kids each night at bedtime?

I have a few. Some books are from when I was young but others are new to me; discovered as an adult while reading to my own children.

Shel Silverstein is a good example. For some reason his stories passed me by when I was a child – even though his children’s books started getting published in the 1960s. The first time I read The Giving Tree to my son, I cried. Aloud. He thought I didn’t like the book. “Quite the opposite,” I said. “I love it.”

A similar thing happened when I read Charlotte’s Web to my son. Having read it as a child I knew what was coming. By the end we were weeping in each other’s arms. That’s a moment I will never forget.

I had never read any Enid Blyton books as a child but was introduced to The Faraway Tree series reading to my kids. Same with The Gruffalo and any Julia Donaldson book.

You’re never too old to enjoy a children’s book. And you should never be embarrassed about reading them yourself without the kids around. A lot of insight can be gained from them.

Words and thoughts don’t need to be big to have an impact.

The reason why this subject popped into my head is because I recently reread Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. It has been, at least, 35 years since I last read it. I loved Blume’s books when I was in elementary school. Back then she was essential reading. Rereading her as an adult was an epiphany.

Blume’s writing style is easy on the eyes. It’s gentle and uncomplicated, taking every day experiences and making them fun, frustrating and entertaining all at once, particularly for young readers. A child can read her books and empathise with the characters. They might have a pain-in-the-bum younger sibling or parents who are clueless about raising children and are winging it as they go along. (That’s definitely me!)

If you can believe it Blume’s books get censored in some US states (supposedly the land of free speech). Now that’s what I call an impact. It would appear her portrayal of the actions, thoughts and feelings of children is too hot to handle for some people. Too honest, maybe.

Her stories are perfect for my ten-year-old son who has just started reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. There’s a likeable protagonist in Peter Hatcher. There isn’t any heroic action. There aren’t any deaths (well, except for a turtle). There aren’t any talking animals. There aren’t any children behaving beyond their years.

It’s the Judy Blume effect: the realisation that stories don’t have to be fantastical; they don’t need to have hard-hitting moral lessons. Children do still enjoy simple, commonplace stories with a slow plotline and identifiable characters. Maybe it reaffirms the fact that their lives are just like everyone else’s and that is somehow comforting.

As a family we haven’t experienced a turtle-eating incident, thank goodness. But we have experienced food-up-the-nose incidents, permanent-marker-on-the-new-kitchen-floor incident, getting-tangled-up-in-a-venetian-blind-in-the-middle-of-the-night incident, cutting-own-hair incident, rushing-to-emergency-because-of-ingesting-something-potentially-dangerous incident …

Kids will be kids and that’s what’s worth writing about.