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on January 30, 2015
Three and a half decades ago, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing was a hot topic of debate among my fellow third graders. We weren't in fourth grade, could we read it? Should we read it? If we did read it, did that make us super cool, or super smart, or neither? Eventually, just about everyone ended up reading it, both boys and girls, and our reaction was much the same: what a horrible book! Everyone loved the narrator's pet turtle, Dribble, and all were horrified at Dribble's fate (spoiler: Peter's younger brother Fudge swallows Dribble and nobody considers Peter's feelings). On the other hand, it was a book we all read, even those who otherwise didn't read much.
Many, many years later it seems the kids of today have moved on. We grownups couldn't get our daughter to try any of a set of Judy Blume books. Peter's angst of dealing with a much younger sibling has been dealt with in other, more modern series such as Judy Moody and Wimpy Kid (and Judy Moody does a better job, I think). Perhaps that is just as well. Since it had been over thirty years, I had forgotten Dribble's demise until about halfway through. When I remembered, I also remembered why the book never became a favorite or a repeat. Apart from poor Dribble, Peter's belief that he is largely ignored in favor of Fudge seems to be all too accurate; while young children's books should not be preachy as such, it is important that they contain an uplifting message that is ultimately missing from this one. Older children grappling with younger sibling issues won't receive any reassurances from reading this (I'm pretty sure I didn't back in the day, but then my little sister was no Fudge, fortunately!).
Children of the 21st century have many other, better options when it comes to reading (again, see Judy Moody). Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is one of those childhood memories best left behind.