By Judy Belanger
I have accepted a new challenge: To write for Chicago Parent about my passion, books. I have been reading children’s books professionally for more than 30 years. I grew up reading Nancy Drew. We didn’t have the wealth of children’s literature kids have today. But I got a second chance at children’s literature as an adult. For years I was an elementary school teacher in the learning resource center—the name for the library once they added technology. I enjoyed working with the students, teaching them how to use the library as well as sharing new books and my love of reading. I retired a year and a half ago but continue to substitute in the same district. So, I keep up with what’s new. Children always ask, "What is your favorite book?" My reply is, "I don’t have a favorite book, but many favorite authors." And I still love mysteries. My new challenge is to bring my knowledge, experience and love of books to you so you can share them with your children or grandchildren. I look forward to it. DOUBLE FUDGE, by Judy Blume, Dutton, $15.99; ages 10-12. After an absence of 12 years, Farley Drexel Hatcher, better known as Fudge, is back. This family has been the subject of several Blume books but you don’t have to have read any of the previous books about the Hatcher family to enjoy this humorous fiction. Fudge’s very average family lives in a large New York City apartment building. Dad works in advertising and Mom is a part-time dental hygienist. Fudge is starting school in a special accelerated class for students who are ready to read and write but too young for first grade. His older brother, Peter, is starting seventh grade at the junior high. Tootsie, their younger sister, will be 2. In this book, Fudge has taken an unusual interest in money. To help him understand where money comes from, the family travels to Washington, D.C., and the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. While in the gift shop after the tour they meet some long-lost Hatcher relatives who invite themselves to spend a few days visiting in New York. These Hatchers have a son with the exact same name as Fudge as well as twin girls, the beauties, named Flaura and Fauna, the same age as Peter. Peter now has double trouble and wants to leave home. If you enjoy the book, think of what fun it will be to read the rest of Blume’s books. The Hatcher family was introduced in 1972 in "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing." I enjoyed reading it again and remembering some of the events that those times reflect. When Peter is shopping for shoes for the start of school he selects loafers and Mom wants Fudge to get brown and white saddle shoes. Fudge wants shoes like his brother and causes quite a bit of trouble in the shoe store. At 3, Fudge gets his big boy bed and gives himself his own haircut. In 1980, Judy Blume gave us "Superfudge." In this book, Tamara Roxanne is born. Because everyone calls her their tootsie wootsie, she gets the nickname Tootsie. Peter is not ready for another sibling and threatens to leave home. Fudge wants to quit school because his teacher will not call him by his nickname. Peter’s Christmas list includes a clock radio, stereo and six albums—how different from today. The family rents a house in Princeton, N.J., for the year while Dad takes a leave of absence from his advertising job to write a book. "Fudge-a-mania" came in 1990. Here, the Hatcher family rents a summer house and shares it with the Tubman family who live in the same New York apartment building. The Tubmans have a daughter, Sheila, the main character in Blume’s "Otherwise Know as Sheila the Great." Peter’s grandmother meets Sheila’s grandfather and they get married. This series presents the fun of a typical family. Many of the incidents are the same ones most of us experience, which makes it fun to laugh through growing-up. Not enough books are written these days about fun-loving families. These are great for family reading and are especially good bedtime reading. Everyone will go to sleep wearing a smile. ELLEN’S LION, by Crockett Johnson, Knopf, $12.95; ages 6-10. Crockett Johnson is best known for his "Harold and the Purple Crayon" adventures. "Ellen’s Lion," published in 1959, is being reissued after being out of print for two decades. Ellen has a wonderful imagination that takes her and her stuffed lion through 12 chapters. In the first chapter, Ellen tells the lion that he never seems to talk and admits that she never stops talking. When he does answer, he says he thinks his voice sounds very much like Ellen’s. Thus begins the friendship between the two. One chapter deals with being afraid of the dark. Ellen wants a drink of water in the middle of the night but is afraid of the things she can’t see behind her. If only she had two pairs of eyes, that would solve the problem. So she puts the lion on her shoulder so he can watch from behind. He points out that his eyes are only buttons, but Ellen assures him the things don’t know that and his eyes will work fine. This is a chapter book meant for beginning readers, as well as good bedtime fun. It’s important for today’s child, accustomed to TV, computer and hand-held electronic games, to hear about the wonderful imaginative play between Ellen and her stuffed lion. THE BIG BLUE SPOT, by Peter Holwitz, Philomel, $13.99; ages 3-7. Each year one of our first-grade teachers reads "Little Blue and Little Yellow," by Leo Lionni, to her class. I asked her if she also would try a new book, "The Big Blue Spot." The class was very perceptive. They guessed the blue spot would meet the yellow one and become friends, thus creating the green spot. They also liked that when each of the spots talked, their words were in that particular color. The teacher told her class that this is the first book by Holwitz and they hope he will write more. Both of these books have the same basic theme—yellow and blue make green—and present a fun way to learn about colors as well as friendship. BUBBLE BATH PIRATES!, by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Viking, $15.99; ages 2-5. The last minutes before bedtime can be the best times. For the two boys in this story, their bathtub becomes a pirate ship and the adventure begins. Mom is there with her helping hand and all the usual requests, such as "don’t forget to scrub your backs."The boys turn her words around and use the familiar pirate phrase, "shiver me timbers." When the bath is over they are off to get their bounty, a bowl of chocolate fudge ice cream. The larger book format and big print make a good bedtime story read, but watch out for your next bath time adventure.Judy Belanger is a retired elementary learning resource center teacher who lives with her husband in Addison. They have two grown children and four grandchildren. She continues to substitute in grades K-6 in the school where she taught.