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Stories of My Childhood: Just Grandma and Me

In this series, I explore books that have had a special meaning to me as a kid. It can be any book that tells a story that isn’t a board book, counting/alphabet book, and that is one I remember well. Of course, it should ideally be good too. This month’s choice is a special pick for Grandparents’ Day.

What is the book about?

This is a simple little story about Little Critter and his grandmother. Together, they have many adventures at the beach. Narrated by Little Critter, it tells all about their day from morning until he falls asleep on the bus ride home.

How did I discover it?

It was part of Grandma’s book basket–more on that below. It was a staple whenever I came for a visit, usually on my own. It did, after all, feature a grandmother and one grandchild.

What do I like about the book?

It’s a simple story about grandparent appreciation. I don’t remember most of the things that Little Critter actually does, but there are events that you’d often see at a typical beach day…but the focus is on the grandmother. It’s a different approach to family stories. I remember there being some nice illustrations, too. One particular two-page drawing featured lots of animals and little critters having fun at the beach, and I remember being intrigued by a plane carrying a “sign” behind it that said “Work for Peace.” This may have been because I was used to seeing so many “planes with signs” at the Jersey shore as a kid.

Favorite memory involving the books

Grandma used to have a book basket–pretty much an Easter basket with books inside. Titles included things like “Peanut Butter and Jelly,” “If You Give a Pig a Pancake,” “Nina Nina Star Ballerina,” “The Berenstain Bears’ Week at Grandma’s,” and the books about the Westie terrier whose name I can’t recall. But by far the most fun to read was Just Grandma and Me. Sometimes Grandma would even read it from her perspective instead of from Little Critter’s. It was especially funny at the end, where Little Critter insisted his grandmother fell asleep on the bus ride home even though it was he who did so.

Not that I don’t give the Berenstain Bears book any credit; that too was a good grandparent book. It showed Brother and Sister Bear going to their grandparents’ home for a week while their parents took a second honeymoon. I never understood why they were disappointed about it; going to Grandma and Grandpa’s was fun! But they learned to have fun too, through baking and ship building and square dancing. That was almost my choice for this month’s Childhood Stories post. Both are great.

Digging deeper into the fandom

Little Critter had “grown up” books too. In second grade, I was delighted to discover a series for young elementary school students starring him, now called LC. He and his friends had many adventures, and while I don’t remember what they were, I do know that I loved checking them out for silent reading time. They’re very hard to find now it seems. I may have outgrown Just Grandma and Me, but it was fun to continue the series later on.

My thoughts on the book now

Just Grandma and Me probably isn’t as popular as it used to be, but it does bring back memories. I’m sad I don’t remember too much about it, but it is what it is. If I can remember the happy times it brought, it must be a good story.

Happy Grandparents’ Day to all!

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Stories of My Childhood: American Girl’s Kirsten series

In this series, I explore books that have had a special meaning to me as a kid. It can be any book that tells a story that isn’t a board book, counting/alphabet book, and that is one I remember well. Of course, it should ideally be good as well.

What are the books about?

It’s the 1850s, pioneering time in America. Families want farms of their own, including Kirsten’s, so their family makes the journey by boat from Sweden to America. But the journey is anything but smooth, and Kirsten’s best friend doesn’t even make it there alive. Throughout the series, and with the help of her aunt, uncle, and cousins, Kirsten moves to a new land, befriends a Native American girl, attends American school, has a barn-raising birthday party, and ultimately overcomes disaster to move to a brand new house of her own.

What do I like about the books?

The American Girl series were brilliant–a six-story series for each character, taking you through a year in the life of each. There was an introductory story, a school story, a holiday story, a birthday story, a summer story, and then a story that introduced big changes in the character’s life. At least, that was the format when I was a girl. They also came with their own doll and other spinoff books to add to your collection.

Favorite memory involving the books

I was in kindergarten when I received Kirsten as a gift. It was one of my favorite presents, and launched the American Girl era in my house (my sisters and I each had a few dolls). But my mom and I would sit on the piano bench in the living room, reading a chapter of one of the books each night. This was followed by a reading of one of the mini packets that came with Kirsten’s outfits. These tiny booklets had information about the clothes it came with, how Kirsten used them, and how they were important to the story.

Of course, playing with the doll was fun too–my sister and I came up with all sorts of stories, though I rarely played with her as Kirsten. She did have a toy doll that would come to life when our dolls were having sleepovers. And of course, who could forget bringing Kirsten to the American Girl store in New York and having a cafe dinner and getting her frizzy hair fixed?

How the books inspired me

There was a story writing kit that I think came with some type of American Girl product. Like the name stated, it allowed you to create your own American Girl character and tales. I don’t remember any of it, but I do remember that I had trouble settling on a girl to create and develop. There was a lot of text crossed out and space taken up!

My thoughts on the books today

I still love the idea of dolls with their own series, and I’m glad that this tradition continues. It did make me sad that she was retired before even getting her own movie like Kit, Molly, and Samantha did. I do hope that they continue to make diverse dolls from different time periods–the current dolls seem to be mostly more modern. Although I ultimately came to like Molly and Samantha’s stories better (their lives were more fun, and I couldn’t imagine myself living as a pioneer woman where life basically consisted of farm work), Kirsten will always have a special place on my bookshelf.

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Stories of My Childhood: Chrysanthemum

Chrystanthemum cover

What is the book about?

Chrysanthemum loves her name. She loves it written on a birthday cake, on an envelope, or whispered to her at bedtime. Then she starts school and the other children begin to make fun of her name.,…and she wishes she was named anything else! She begins to wilt, like a flower. What will it take to make her bloom again?

How did I discover it?

It was in my home bookshelf for a while, but this was a first grade read aloud as well. It works very well in that respect (see below).

What do I love about the book?

Henkes’ illustrations hands down make this book. The little mice are adorable and expressive. We get glimpses of their lives into little bits of dialogue that appear in some illustrations. Sometimes there are multiple on one page, rather than a full-page drawing. The lyrical prose isn’t to be overlooked, though. The repetition of the writing will have readers also falling in love with Chrysanthemum’s name, as well as driving the point home in the end that it’s good to be unique.

The same can actually be said for the rest of Henkes’ books. I especially love Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse as well, but Chrysanthemum was my first venture into this world, so it’s my choice for this series.

Digging deeper into the fandom

I read a lot of Henkes’ other mouse books after this one. A favorite was Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, but others includes Julius, the Baby of the World; Owen; Sheila Rae the Brave; and A Weekend with Wendell. I adore how they take place in one universe and how characters overlap.

Favorite memory involving the book

Listening to my teacher read the book aloud. Chrysanthemum really does have a nice ring to it!

My thoughts on the book now

Admittedly, I do think the moral is a little sketchy looking back at it, or the lesson for bullies anyway. Basically one of Chrysanthemum’s teachers comes out announcing her own very long name. The bullies are shocked and decide that they love Chrysanthemum’s name, too. So the lesson here is to have the teacher subtly threaten the kids with the fact that she shares a characteristic with the bullied student so they won’t say mean things in her presence again? What happens when that teacher leaves to have her baby? Will the bullies get going again? Anyway, despite this, it’s still a really cute story and a great starting point for the Henkes mouse universe. It’s still a cute story, let’s be honest.

Check out more books from my childhood:

Pig William
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Go Dog Go 
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (+ series)
The Adventures of Captain Underpants (+ series)

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Stories of My Childhood: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

What is the book about?

For those who don’t yet know, a well-known candymaker has gone off the grid for a long time, but is reopening his factory to a lucky few. If you find a golden ticket in your chocolate bar, you’ve won a tour of the factory. The winners include greedy Augustus, spoiled Veruca, gum-chewer Violet, and TV fan Mike, but there’s also Charlie. Charlie comes from a poor family and doesn’t have much, but he’s about to get more than he ever dreamed.

How did I discover it?

Picture this. It’s 2005. You’re at your classroom library having just finished your independent reading book. You need a new choice. Choices are primarily:

*dated-feeling novels about kids living in super-rural America
*starring Chosen Ones in fantasy-based Middle Eastern environments
*starring kids who had wacky (but not wacky enough to be exciting or outlandish; more wacky in a “nontraditional” sense) relatives
*escapist classics like Anne of Green Gables, again in rural areas
*tales about kids traveling to Europe to find themselves or visit wacky (“nontraditional”) relatives, again usually rural (Rural settings were the “missing dad” trope of the 90s/early 2000s…they were EVERYWHERE.)
*kids living with strict grandparents, also often probably in rural areas

This was my problem. Kids today should thank their lucky stars that they have the book choices they do. And I had some good, modern-feeling series too…Junie B Jones, Abby Hayes, etc. But when it came to actual classroom choices, stories were more stuffy. While many of these books are fine, reading started to become the same thing over and over again. And then you come across Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Suddenly you’re not in the farm fields of the USA, but in a wacky factory. The kids are interesting rather than somewhat flawed do-gooders of my fifth grade books.

What do I like about the book?

If you’ve never read a Roald Dahl book, you should! His narration style is unlike any other. It’s very conversational and includes a lot of entertaining comments. It’s just a fun, exciting read that doesn’t try to impress you with prose. Dahl does not talk down to his readers and adults will find things to like too.

And it’s just a fun adventure. For the first time in a while, I was excited for reading time to see what would happen next and see what surprises were around the corner. [I liked James and the Giant Peach for many of the same reasons (my first grade teacher read it to us), but I haven’t read that book in so long that I’m not touching on it this series.] The characters were well-drawn, and I loved the grandparents. Finally, a kooky relative that wasn’t gruff or out of touch! Yes, I do like Grandpa Joe. Fight me.

The enjoyment also is in the reading of the prose. Reading detailed descriptions of the factory. Listening to Grandpa Joe talk about the wacky Prince Pondicherry. And there’s a good lesson to top it off. Granted, readers know what’s coming, but it’s presented in a really interesting way.

Digging deeper into the fandom

There is actually some really good fan fiction for the novel out there. In high school, I came across a particularly good one where each character was driving home in a taxi and describes their interactions with the driver. If I come across it again, I’ll post it here.

You might also find yourself torn between the two films and this has sparked debate. I personally like the original from the 70s. People complain that the original deviates too much, but I’d argue that the Depp version deviates even more (I find that most differences in the original are pretty minor and the things that they do change work very well with the movie).

Another way I see the fandom popping up is through Grandpa Joe hate groups on social media. The premise is that Grandpa is this lazy guy who pretends to be unable to get up until he gets chocolate or wins a golden ticket. But I’m inclined to disagree!

Favorite memory involving the books

Honestly, just reading it during silent reading time at school. Sometimes my best friend and I would poke each other and show the other a funny line or scene. I remember doing that here too. One particular day was a photo retake day for me, and I was miffed that I’d have to miss reading time to go retake my photo. As I said, it was a book that was different and that I really looked forward to reading.

My thoughts about the book now

It’s just an enjoyable today as it is now. Because the author doesn’t really talk down to people, these nostalgic stories have staying power.

Check out more books from my childhood:

Pig William
Go Dog Go
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (+ series)
The Adventures of Captain Underpants (+ series)

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Stories of My Childhood: Pig William

What is the book about?

This is a colorful, comic-style book that chronicles the adventures of a pig named William as he tries to get ready for a day at the school picnic. William is slow, takes his time in the morning, and likes to do things his own way, including making a big mess in the bathtub. These quirks drive his many housemates crazy! So when William misses the bus, it comes as no surprise to anyone. But when it starts to rain, he may just have won the day after all.

How did I discover it?

Pig William was a childhood library item that we’ve owned since the beginning of time. I’m pretty sure we read it over and over again when I was being toilet-trained, and it’s also partially how I learned to read. I loved it so much that I actually discovered a companion book, Pigs in Hiding, at the local library that quickly became a favorite library book. (Didn’t you always have those couple of books that you always had to check out time after time?)

What do I love about the book?

Quite simply, I love how colorful it is. There is lots of detail in the pages that often speak for themselves. The pigs do lots of silly things in the background, particularly William. It’s not a text-heavy book, nor is there truly narration. The book consists of comic-book style images with speech bubbles and readers watch the character interact with one another.

This is not a preachy kids’ book at all. It’s just perky and fun. Plus, cute pigs!

Digging deeper into the fandom

This author wrote my first series books. As I mentioned above, I found a book by the same author I loved just as much at the local library, Pigs in Hiding. This one had a house of pigs playing a massive game of hide and seek, and it’s only when the lead pig sets out food in the kitchen that everyone comes out and promptly loses the game. It’s my favorite scene in the book–pigs coming out EVERYWHERE, crowding the kitchen, and many saying the name of a food like “strawberries!” “donuts!” “cheese!” Etc. Like Pig William, quirky adventures line the pages. Readers also get the enjoyment of looking for hidden pigs.

Favorite memory involving the books

William recites a poem while feeding his fish, Pinky. It goes something like this:

Pinky, pinky, little and dinky, eating Big Fish Chow. Poor Pinky; too big for the sinky, must play in the bathtub now.

Mom and I composed a rhyme to this poem which I obviously can’t type out on paper. There was another weird one where we’d refer to ponytails as “Pig Williams.” As in… “hey Mom, can you give my hair a Pig William?” I have no idea where this trend came from, nor what it a ponytail and a fictional pig had in common. Yet we used that term for years.

How did the books inspire me?

I can’t say that they really inspired me any, though it might have inspired my love of escapist books.

My thoughts on the books now

Pig William is an underrated book and there are barely any copies available on Amazon. This is a shame. The series (there’s a third one about Christmas pigs I’ve never read) deserve more attention. It could even be considered a great introduction to graphic novels.

Check out other posts on books from my childhood:

Go Dog Go
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (+ series)
The Adventures of Captain Underpants (+ series)

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Exploring Settings: Judy Blume’s Fudge books

Heads up: I recommend viewing this on a computer.

In a recent post I wrote about my love for Judy Blume’s Fudge series and how I once looked up some of the locales in the book.

I want to show you how fun it can be to dig deeper into novels by looking up the setting. This particular post, though, may make more sense if you’ve read the books. Even if you haven’t, I encourage you to read the post and see how building a setting off existing places can be an interesting concept.

Disclaimer: Screenshots are grabbed from Google Maps and are an attempt to make a setting more authentic. Allegations to fictional places are not necessarily true and some are just speculation. Images of buildings or businesses does not mean endorsement or lack thereof. Additionally, both brief quotes are taken from Fudge-A-Mania and Double Fudge, both by Judy Blume, used for review purposes, and I take no ownership of them.

The Family’s Vacation Locale

In book 3, Peter’s family travels to Maine for three weeks with Sheila’s family, a classmate that Peter does not always get along with. The result is a highly realistic, funny novel. They end up in a town called Southwest Harbor.

The island is located a very long drive from my own house. One could probably even fly there. Peter said that it took ten hours for the family to get there from NYC. I believe it!

Peter described Southwest Harbor as a tiny town that had a main road surrounded by a few shops. You’ll find that to be Route 102. A lot of the businesses in the book are, in fact, fictional, because the owners play roles in the books. However you can see the locations which may have inspired Bicycle Bob’s (Southwest Cycle) and Ickle’s (Quietside Cafe). Looking at the book, I’m 99% sure that these places were the inspiration. And the book never actually says that the shop was CALLED Bicycle Bob’s…hmm…

Southwest Cycle aka Bicycle Bob’s

Peter then describes pulling into a dirt driveway and pulling up to a house near the end of it. Assuming that the house is a very short bike ride from town and walking distance from the beach (context clues are given), it could have been one of these three. (EDIT: This is now moot, because the family “took a left” presumably off 102, so it would be on the other side of the street; one surrounded by trees because there was a path through them to the beach. They didn’t have to cross a road to get there, I believe. However, I am not sure if these beaches are public or private, so this is hard to say. Perhaps this was a detail that got made up.)

When Fudge lets Uncle Feather out of his cage, they think he’s escaped the house and Peter and Fudge must go asking around if anyone has seen him. There they meet the neighbors, Mrs. Apfel and her visiting daughter Mitzi. They supposedly walk through a path through the woods and come to a beachfront house. I would assume their house to be one of these below. It’s probably expensive, but considering what Mrs. A’s husband used to do, they could afford it I’m sure…see below.

Now, paths are very hard to find (supposedly they took a path through the woods and most of the paths on the map lead to private property), but assuming that their vacation house is down one of the driveways I found, I find that this is plausible.

Here is another(actually probably better) possibility I found down the road:

Now let’s go back to town again.

“We went to town the next afternoon. The gears on Dad’s bike were stuck so he dropped it off at Bicycle Bob’s shop for repairs. Bicycle Bob is a big, friendly guy who wears a T-shirt that says I’d Rather Be Biking. Then we went to Sawyer’s Market for groceries and to Oz Books, where Fudge and I each got two paperbacks.” (24-25, p. 1991 Yearling edition)

Oz Books does not seem to exist. But…ba-bam! Sawyer’s Market is an 100% real place still operating today. A front view:

The library is right next door, just as described in the book later on. The exterior was described as a building that looked like a house with flowerpots at the entrance. Here is the inspiration for the building where Fudge demands a book about himself and where Peter falls in love with the librarian. I wonder if any copies of Fudge-a-Mania are there?

Peter, Jimmy, Grandma, and some of the Tubmans go on a sailing adventure. The group that went sailing wasn’t on the water for more than three/four hours. It is easy to believe that they got a boat at one of the marinas in this area, like the one on the far left, and set up camp at one of these islands, perhaps Sutton. But I don’t know how far you get in an hour of sailing, so…take it with a grain of salt.

Here’s a pond where Mom and Dad may have taken baby Tootsie to see the ducks:

There is also a rocky beach to the other side of the pond where the gang spends some time, so I wonder if my second finding really is the location of the Apfels’ place because it’s so close. The only qualm is that it’s so close to the road. Perhaps a lot of the beach areas that stretch down farther really are public, or are for the sake of the book.

Weekly baseball games took place at the high school field. Everyone took part in them, including former baseball great Big Apfel who lived down the street from the rental house. This is the only high school in the area, so I assume this to be the field.

And as a bonus, here is the place that served as the turning point in Book 4 in Washington D.C. Money-obsessed Fudge goes on a tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where they run into long-lost cousins. I have heard rumors that the tour location has moved or is different now or something but in 2002, this is where they were.

Other tourists in the building. Could Cousin Howie be among them? Thanks to Google user ajques for the Maps image.

The Hometown

Peter’s family lives in NYC, where two of the books take place.

The apartment was easy to find. 25 West 68th. But does it have at least sixteen floors, as mentioned in book 4? Hard to tell. Fun fact: it’s right across the street from where Michael Hobbs went to school in the movie Elf, further proving a theory of mine that they live very close by. (Though the real life school is Jewish, the area looks exactly the same as the shot in the movie, down to the brownstone steps Buddy is sitting on.)

Some of the view down the street. Times Square it ain’t. Heck, I could probably even manage living there.

In a previous post about these books I stated that I couldn’t find a Harry’s shoe store on Broadway. There is one. (Two, actually…the adult Harry’s is just down the street.) This is where Fudge had a tantrum after not being able to buy the several pairs of shoes he wanted.



There is also a vet’s office on 62nd between York and the FDR Drive just as Blume said. Cousin Howie drove the boys there when Uncle Feather crashed into the window.

Um…I’ll stick to my vet’s office in the suburbs with easy parking, thanks.

And finally, does anyone remember what happened at this subway station?

Well, let Peter explain…

“It wasn’t until we got off the subway at Spring Street that I noticed Fudge was wearing just one shoe….”Where’s your shoe?” I asked him. “What shoe?” “The shoe that’s not on your foot.” “Oh, that shoe.” Dad said, “Put on your other shoe, Fudge.” “I can’t.” “Why not?” Dad asked. “I took it off to itch my foot and now its gone.” “Gone?” Dad said. “Yes,” Fudge said.”That was one of your new shoes,” Dad told him. “I know, Dad.” “And now you’ve lost it.” “I didn’t lose it. I know where it is. It’s on the subway.” “The subway?” Dad said. “Yes,” Fudge said. (Double Fudge, pg 50, p. 2002, Scholastic)

Lesson learned: don’t take your little brother anywhere.

Detailed settings are a testament to how knowledge of your setting can make a richer book. Judy Blume does a wonderful job and has clearly been to all the locations.

Let me know if there are any other books you’d like to see an exploration of in the comments. They should take place in the United States, and also need to be a book I’ve read. I definitely want to do more of these posts in the future, and hopefully for adult books that more blog readers will be familiar with. Let me know, and thank you for taking the inaugural journey with Fictionista Book Tours.

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Stories of My Childhood: Go Dog Go

What is the book about?

Good question…what is the book about? To put it simply, it’s about colorful dogs having fun. There are tall dogs, small dogs, yellow dogs, one dog, two dogs, red dogs, blue dogs…so many dogs! They boat together, they travel together, and they even sleep together. But the following day, more adventure awaits. Where on earth are the dogs going? An entertaining side plot also shows one female dog attempting to impress a male cohort with her choice of hats, and struggling to succeed. But with a little luck, maybe she’ll find the perfect party hat.

How did I discover it?

This was one of those “I Can Read All By Myself” books with the Cat in the Hat logo near the top. I believe that many of them were mailed to our house, and that’s presumably how Go Dog Go got there as well.

What do I love about the book?

The illustrations are just as fun as the story, what little there is. But does that really matter? Not in the slightest. The colors are really saturated and well done, and the ending pages explode in color in action. It makes one want to join the cast of characters, at least, it did.

Digging deeper into the fandom

This just doesn’t have a fandom, but I did find a fascinating article a couple of years ago. In a letter to the female dog who tries on the hats, the author encourages her to be herself and not worry about what the other dogs think. This message is still true for adults today! I posted the article on Facebook a few years ago and a couple of people spread it around. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who enjoyed this book.

Favorite memory involving the books

There is an end scene where all the dogs climb a tree and have a great big party, standing on what is apparently a very sturdy layer of leaves. Colorful dogs are everywhere..napping, partying, whatever. One afternoon my mom and I sat on the living room floor and acted out the positions of the dogs. There was one dog being shot out of a cannon that was tricky to pose as, but we managed. Dogs that were lying on the ground were easier obviously, though another tricky one to imitate was a dog swinging.

How did the books inspire me?

There isn’t a lot of storyline here except to wonder where the dogs are going in the second half of the book. I guess, in a way, this book introduced me to the concept of “escapist” books, or books that simply plunge you into a world to escape to without a ton of storyline. I have tossed all my “escapist” storyline ideas for now, but I’m sure I will write one someday.

My thoughts on the books now

I think that Go Dog Go is a classic and highly recommend it to anyone with kids. It’a a colorful and fun classic for any dog lover, and it ages pretty well too.

Have you ever read Go Dog Go? What did you think?

Also be sure to check out the other books in my yearlong Childhood Stories series by clicking the tag below.

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Stories of My Childhood: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

What is the book about?

This series of books is about Peter Hatcher (originally in fourth grade) and his little brother Fudge. The books typically consist of mini-stories, but it’s in a chapter book format with an overlying theme to tie it together.

In the original book, Fudge is a two year old known for throwing tantrums and just being an embarrassment to Peter. They have many entertaining days, including Fudge spoiling a school project, bribing Fudge with Oreos to be in a commercial, and many more. In book 2, Superfudge, the family moves from NYC to Princeton for a year. In Fudge-a-Mania (maybe my favorite), the family, plus Peter’s friend Jimmy and arch-enemy Sheila, goes to Maine for three weeks. In the final installment, Double Fudge, Fudge becomes obsessed with money. While on a trip to DC to see how money is made, they run into long-lost family members and life is turned upside down. I’m unusual in that I think that the last two books are my favorites.

How did I discover it?

My mom purchased the book for me. I was drawn in by what was a colorful cover (and the Comic Sans summary on the back!) but flipping through the text, it seemed boring and slow. I eventually got over it and very much enjoyed the book.

What do I love about the books?

They’re fun! These books are what I call “escapist books.” There’s not necessarily one plot problem to be solved except for Fudge; mainly it’s about stepping into another character’s world for a while and looking at their life. These books can be hit-or-miss for me, but the Fudge series hits a home run. The family dynamics are perfect and are a realistic as you can get. They’re also funny without being too out there. Everything in these books could happen in real life. Book 3 reminded me of my own family vacations, and I wasn’t even sure how since it took place in a different location.

Secondly, they age incredibly well. These are the best-aging books I’ve ever seen, though I think Harry Potter will have done well too. Save for the very occasional reference to a record player or a Harry Potter book on tape, these could take place in any generation. The first one was written in the 70s, but you’d never know it to read it today. Normally if the first book in a series took place in the 70s and then the final one wasn’t written until the 2000s, you’d know right away. With this series, you’d never know.

I love the characters, too, well-drawn without over-the-top effort put into them. I especially love seeing the three families get together in Fudge-A-Mania. Grandma and Buzzy Senior for life–incidentally two of my favorite characters. 

Digging deeper into the fandom

When I started doing my old college blog, I had the idea to do a post on Office Scranton vs. real life Scranton, meaning that I would note the locations used in the show and compare them. I found out so many interesting things. For example, Lake Scranton could never actually be used as a place for team building, nor would Michael be able to drive a car into it.

I did the same thing with Fudge-a-Mania. Many places mentioned are real, right down to the library (even the exterior is the same as described in the book!) to the harbor. I even spotted a couple places where their vacation house might be. Meanwhile, I also explored New York City in Google Maps to track down places mentioned in the other books. There is a scene in Double Fudge where Peter is telling Cousin Howie how to get to the vet’s office. After tracking down the family’s apartment (I actually believe that they would be very close by to the Hobbs family in Elf), I followed Peter’s directions exactly and…ended up at a vet’s office. Hey-o! Judy Blume’s sense of detail and direction is evident in her books and I think that’s awesome. Now not every place is real (I still can’t find a Tico-Taco or a Harry’s shoe store, unless they went out of business or something), but you would be amazed at how many locations you can track down. It really introduces you to the setting, and also shows dedication by the author.

I never did a post on this, but I would like to, so keep an eye out. If your current book takes place in a real location, I encourage you to get out Google Maps and see what you can discover! And while rereading it, your powers of visualization will be awesome.

Favorite memory involving the books

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing taught me the perils of looking ahead. It’s very tempting for many of us to peek ahead and see what happens. I really try not to do this.

Anyway, I did this for the first book and discovered the ultimate bad thing that Fudge does with Peter’s turtle. I was bummed, as it would be more shocking if I found it out when I was supposed to. My mom had asked me if I had finished yet, and when I said no, she said, “Wait until you see what Fudge does at the end!” I was disappointed that I already knew. After that, I never peeked ahead in a book again…that’s a lie.

I also recall times when I liked to read while I ate my lunch at home. These books were some of my favorite “lunch reads.”

How did the books inspire me?

I did try to write a few “escapist” stories starring a group of three friends, but that project has been tossed aside for now. 

My thoughts on the books now

I still love them and think of them as comfort books. I’m not ashamed to admit that when I was in college, sometime I’d use them as my bedtime reading. And maybe even still now! I enjoy being in a different world for a while and I love each character, not just Fudge. 

Did you read this series as a kid? What did you think?

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Stories of My Childhood: Captain Underpants

Welcome to a new series that I plan on exploring this year. I want to talk a little bit about the stories I loved as a kid and why I love them now. You’re never too old to outgrow your favorite story. My first pick? Captain Underpants. I recently finished writing a party quest for my Captain Underpants party on my party planning site, and it got me thinking back to old times.

Potty humor. Misbehaving boys. Superheroes. Not exactly what a third grade girl would be interested in, right? You’d be wrong. 

What is the book about?

Tired of their cruel principal, George and Harold order a 3-D Hypno Ring and use it to make him do crazy things…just long enough to get their pranking stuff back from his office. Their joke goes too far when they hypnotize him into believing that he is Captain Underpants, and he jumps out the window to go and fight crime. This pays off, though, because a villain just happens to be on the brink of destroying the world. Throughout the series, George and Harold bring back Captain Underpants to save the world from talking toilets, evil professors, alien lunch ladies, and more. 

How did I discover it?

I think it was from a school book fair. Posters of Captain Underpants hung on the walls at school, but I never really paid them any attention. Then my mom bought the first book for me. I wasn’t thrilled, but on one weekend afternoon, I sat down and read it. It was hysterical. There was a particular scene with a villain called Dr. Diaper looking like he pooped himself. I laughed until I cried. 

I then bought book 3, and then 5, and then 2…yes, out of order. Book 4, the plot of Professor Poopypants, came last. I’d also brought a spinoff, Super Diaper Baby, to a reading event at school one day and struggled to not laugh until I cried, not wanting to disturb the entire class. 

What do I love about the books?

Author Dav Pilkey is a really cool guy, and still one of my most admired authors. He takes a lot of inspiration from things that happened in his life, and the books reflect that. There are tons of fourth wall jokes. There are fun comics drawn by George and Harold, the creators of Captain Underpants. There are ridiculous jokes seen in the pages, particularly within drawings of signs, posters, and book covers. 

I also love George and Harold’s sense of fun. They’re not bad kids; they’re just creative, as we’re told to see them. Despite what protective librarians and gatekeepers might say, they didn’t encourage me to act out in school or misbehave. They did encourage me to be creative…more on that below. Finally, I thought the superhero story was clever and well-drawn, but you don’t have to like official superheroes to enjoy these books. It’s not realistic fiction when you add in all the technologies, super powers, and aliens that appear in later novels. Even the first book isn’t too realistic when you consider that a little guy in a diaper is using robots to help him blow up Earth…but before that, the book seems strangely plausible! The world is real (mostly), and that’s fun too. 

Digging deeper into the fandom

I’d always noticed links to websites on the back covers where you could visit to play games. One was Scholastic’s; the other belonged to the author. My dad suggested one rainy day that I try it, and I did. My sister and I, who I’d also gotten to read the books, had a blast playing the arcade games and using the comic creator. 

Pilkey.com was a whole different level of awesome. Fun facts about the books, legendary arcade games, pages created just for jokes (actually, one was literally a joke page), and facts about the author all made for hours of fun. Later on, there would actually be Captain Underpants songs that came out that we loved. 

My sister and I invented many games together, and eventually we started playing Captain Underpants. I would strip down to my underwear and a cape I had, and she would pretend to be his sidekick Harold. We’d go around the house pretending to fight the evil villains seen in the books.

Favorite memory involving the books

My sister and I played many games of Captain Underpants as mentioned above. Those were good times. At one point, though, we’d decided to put on a play for our parents. Act 1 featured me as George and her as Harold. Act 2 featured me as Captain Underpants and her as Deputy Doo Doo, a cowboy-hat wearing turd that was featured in the Super Diaper Baby book. The play was going smoothly until my sister decided to deliberately botch it. During random moments, she would take her cowboy hat, take a bow, and go, “Howdy, partner!” This was something she was only supposed to do once, but she would. not. stop. doing it. It drove me nuts, but we all laughed anyway. 

To this day, this infamous play still gets brought up on occasion. 

How did the books inspire me?

I made my own comic book, just like George and Harold did! It was about a smoothie (a type of character my best friend and I had invented that looked more like an ice cream cone) who had a sleepover at their friend’s house and woke up in a land of evil villains. It was called The Adventures of Cool Chocolate. 

My thoughts on the books now

I definitely took a peek into the later books on Amazon. Sadly, what I saw, I didn’t love. The plots get convoluted, the villains repeat, and at one point, Pilkey gets too carried away with snide political jokes. (I chuckled at the first one, but a whole chapter’s worth…meh.) Still, I do love the first five, or even the first seven. Actually, I wouldn’t mind reading book 8 either, which has the concept of an alternate universe.

But I love the first books as much as ever!

Captain Underpants was one of my favorite book series. Did you have any favorites? Feel free to share below.