Friday, July 22, 2016

Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume

Like so many of her books, my Kiddo's
copy was a hand-me-down from an older cousin
I always enjoy re-reading a Judy Blume book, but Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great is actually a first read for me.  I found it on my Kiddo's bookshelf and thought it would be a nice summer novel.

Sheila Tubman, 10, lives in NYC with her parents and older sister Libby.  She also lives with a lot of fears and phobias, beginning with the usual - dogs, spiders, the dark - and adding to that now is swimming pools (or at least, the water in the pool).  This makes for a difficult summer for Sheila when her father announces that the family will be house-sitting at the home of a colleague in Tarrytown, NY for the summer.  Sheila is pretty excited about getting her own room, even if it is filled with models put together by one of the owner's sons, along with a note telling her not to touch anything or else.  And on top of that, the first night there, Sheila sees a spider on her ceiling.  But worse than a spider, is the little dog named Jennifer that the Tubman's will be taking care of for the summer.

So far, Sheila's Tarrytown vacation is not getting off to a good start, but then she meets Merle Ellis, called Mouse, a girl her age who is pretty good at doing tricks with a Duncan yo-yo.  Sheila likes to think she is perfect and has learned to cover her fears with a combination of false bravado and little white lies, but Mouse sees right through her and even confronts her about her fears.  Perhaps capitalizing on Sheila's on that, Mouse tells her about nearby Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod Crane and the legend of the Headless Horseman. Yes, it creates a new worry for Sheila.

Meanwhile, at the pool, Sheila's swimming lessons are very slow-going but her swimming teacher, a college student named Marty, needs the money for college, so he can afford to be patient, but if Sheila isn't swimming by the end of summer, Marty forfeits the money her mother is willing to pay.

There is an awful lot of appealing, fun things for Sheila to do during her Tarrytown vacation, but will she be able to overcome her fears and get around her phobias in order to enjoy it?

And after I read Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, I totally understood why my Kiddo like it.  Like Sheila, she also had a few fears and phobias growing up.  And Judy Blume was (is) a favorite writer of hers.  Blume has a remarkable ability to take issues that are common among kids and look at them with humor and honesty, so that kids seem to trust that everything will work out eventually, for her characters and for her readers.

If you've already read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, the first book in the Fudge series, then you've also run into Sheila Tubman.  She is Peter Hatcher's neighbor and nemesis.  Peter, older brother of Fudge, does make a brief appearance in Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great with his dog, mostly to introduce the idea of Sheila's fears and phobias.  And although this is part of the Fudge series, it is a nice stand alone chapter book.

I like the way Blume tackled themes like friendship, siblings, courage in this novel and shows that while it isn't always easy to overcome fears, it does feel really good when one succeeds at getting past them enough to enjoy a real sense of accomplishment.  Sheila doesn't go home at the end of summer completely over her fears and phobias but she does make a good start and that's what counts.

When I asked my Kiddo if she liked this book when she read it, she said it helped her realize that her own fears and phobias could be overcome, and that, for the most part, they have been conquered.  She said Judy Blume was her favorite childhood author, so much so that she read and enjoyed every book Blume has written, including her adult fiction.  

Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great was originally published in 1972.  It was updated once to reflect technological changes but there are still no cell phones or computers easily available to the kids in the novel, which is kind of nice.  So things may still feel a little dated, like playing with yo-yos and mimeograph machines, but not so much that kids won't enjoy it today.  I know from experience that everything old becomes new again, sometimes, so maybe I should dust off my own Duncan YoYo and pass it on to another kid.

Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great has been in continuous print since it was first published and here are some of the Sheila covers from 1972 to 2016:

1972, 1976, 1984
1986, 2003, 2011
All the Fudge books are sitting on the shelf where I found this one.  I think I'll revisit those soon.  

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from my Kiddo


  1. I loved this book as a kid ... actually all of Beverly Cleary books but this one especially.

  2. I for one love things that feel a ‘little dated', and I’m sure I will enjoy this. It has (naturally) been added to my must-read list. I do hope you realise I will have to live to at least one hundred to read all the good things you recommend. ;-)


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