Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

by Judy Blume

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Discussion Topic

The author's purpose and message in "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing."


The author's purpose in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is to entertain readers while addressing themes of family dynamics and sibling rivalry. Judy Blume conveys the message that growing up involves dealing with challenging family relationships and learning to navigate conflicts with patience and understanding.

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What is the author's purpose in "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing"?

Since Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is a work of fiction, there is little we can learn directly from reading the story. We should not assume that any of the characters act as a mouthpiece for the author.

Discovering facts about the author's autobiography and reasons for writing is best done by researching what she herself has said about the topic. The first place we should go to research this is Judy Blume's own website. On this site, she discusses herself as a writer in her own words. Since it is her site, she chooses what information to share with us and ensures that it represents her deepest convictions.

First, we should note that she is a professional writer. This means that she writes to earn her living just as a car mechanics repairs cars to earn a living. She was attracted to writing quite early. On one page on her website, she describes how she loved to read as a child and how she enjoyed making up stories in her head. When she had children, she enjoyed making up stories to entertain them. This habit of story telling evolved into a writing career. Her focus on writing for children stems from her own experience as a mother, although she also writes for adults.

This particular book focuses on sibling rivalry, in particular, the way that an older sibling can feel left out or neglected when a new baby arrives. As someone who has a B.S. in education as well as having children herself, I am aware of the conflicts that can occur between siblings. Blume approaches Peter's life with humor, sympathy, and imagination and the family's efforts with their toddler with affection and ingenuity. She says on her website that "Fudge was based on my son, Larry, when he was a toddler," so we can assume that part of her purpose in writing was sharing and expressing some of her own experiences. 

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What is the author's message in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing?

The author’s message is that even when siblings fight, they still love each other.

Growing up is difficult.  Growing up with a younger sibling is even harder.  Fudge really puts Peter through the ringer.  He is a little more difficult than most brothers.  However, no matter how difficult he is, Peter still loves him.  We still love our siblings, even when they try us.  Family is family, even when times are tough.

Fudge does some pretty terrible things.  He ruined Peter’s father’s opportunity to make a very good impression on a client by harassing the client, to the point where his boss took the account away from him. I imagine Peter’s father was not too thrilled about that.

Peter is constantly exasperated with having to accommodate Fudge’s tantrums: at dinner, at the shoe store, and at the dentist.  He has to bend over backwards to accommodate the boy, and even do silly things like try on the wrong pair of shoes to trick him.  It must be exhausting.  Yet Peter does it, because that is part of what being an older brother is about.  It is how he shows his love.

However, of the worst things Fudge did was ruin his school project.  What made it particularly difficult was the fact that he had already had a rough time working on it with Sheila.  This was the last straw for Peter.  He told his mother that he hated his brother.  His mother explained that she spanked Fudge as punishment for drawing on the poster.

"You did?" I asked. Fudge never gets spanked. My parents don't believe in spanking. "You really spanked him?" I asked again. (Ch. 7)

This is a climactic moment for Peter, in a way.  When he shows his mother the poster, he asks her why she “let him” and why she doesn’t care about him.  He is crying, and hurt.  He asks for a lock on his door.  His mother says she doesn’t believe in locks, but the next thing Peter knows he finds his brother covered in magic marker, cutting his hair into the turtle’s cage.  His dad buys him a lock.

Peter faces another blow when Fudge is chosen to be in the Toddle-bike commercial.  Despite everyone’s attempts to prevent it, his father is given the choice to either have Fudge be in the commercial or have his company lose the account.  Peter is disappointed.  Fudge seems to catch all of the breaks, despite his bad behavior.

I couldn't think of any other reason why Mr. Vincent shouldn't use Fudge in his Toddle-Bike commercial. It was settled. Soon Fudge would be a famous television star and I would be plain old Peter Hatcher -fourth grade nothing. (Ch. 8)

Of course, Fudge is a disaster.  He won’t do what he is told, even when bribed with cookies.  Peter has to show him how it is done, and then Fudge does as asked.  Fudge admires and loves his brother, and wants to be just like him.

When Fudge eats Peter’s turtle, being a brother becomes difficult again.  He swallows it, and has to remain in the hospital until it comes out.  Although Peter is worried about his brother, he is also sad because his turtle is dead.  No one has compassion for the turtle.

So my brother no longer had a turtle inside of him. And I no longer had a turtle! I didn't like Fudge as much as I thought I did before the phone rang. (Ch. 10)

Sometimes it’s difficult being a big brother, and loving your siblings when they do something truly awful to you, such as eat your pet.  Fortunately, his parents buy him a dog, which is too big to eat.

Through all the ups and downs Peter goes through in this book with his difficult brother, he does continue to care about him.  We never stop loving our family, no matter what they put us through.  This is the author’s message.  As hard as it is to live with someone, that person is  also the one we turn to in our time of need.

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