"I keep my bad points to myself." or Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great

Thanks to Goodreads for the image.

Judy Blume rocks.  Duh, right?  We’ve already had this conversation a million times.  So I can stop telling you all how hard Judy rocks my world.   I will admit something though.  I wasn’t nuts about this book as a youngster.  I loved the Peter and Fudge books so much better.  But that Judy, she’s a sly lady.  And she crafted a book here that is so obviously meant to be enjoyed more by grownups.  Sheila is a little under-appreciated by the  twelve and under set.  But not by adults – oh no. We can see right through Sheila’s shit. 
In case you don’t know or can’t remember, Sheila Tubman is the neighbor of Peter Hatcher (of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing or Superfudge fame). From Peter’s point of view, Sheila is bossy and snobby and annoying.  And I have to admit, Peter does have a point.  But from Sheila’s point of view, her own bossiness and annoyingness is a cover for her many fears and vulnerabilities. 
It’s almost summer vacation and Sheila is going home to learn where her parents have decided to go on vacation this summer.  But there’s Peter with his dog Turtle coming in to the elevator at the same time.  Rather than get on the elevator with them, Sheila walks ten flights to her apartment. She’s scared of dogs, see.  But she tells everyone that Turtle smells bad.  Anywhoosits – Sheila desperately wants to go to Disney World, but her parents have other plans.  They’re house sitting in the country for a co-worker of Sheila’s professor father in a small country town called Tarrytown.
The bummer? Jennifer.  Jennifer is the dog that they’re watching and Sheila freaks out.  Sheila’s older sister, Libby, is wise to Sheila’s fears and is pissed that the dog has to stay outside to assuage her younger sister. Sheila gets back at her sister by snarking on her weight (she’s skinny as a skeleton) and her miserable dancing abilities.  These two girls do not get along.  Other things we discover Sheila is afraid of?  The dark, noises at night, spiders, thunder, swimming, horses, among some other things I’m sure I’ve forgotten about already. 

Sheila meets a girl from down the street named Mouse Ellis.  Mouse is the Junior Yo-yo champion of Tarrytown and is short and skinny with scabs up and down her legs.  Mouse and Sheila hit it off right away, even though Sheila tells Mouse that Yo-yo-ing is for babies where she comes from.  This is not true, of course.  Sheila just can’t admit she can’t yo-yo.  Mouse is no idiot though and sees right through Sheila’s ruse from the beginning. 

Sheila, Mouse and Libby go to summer day camp.  Sheila and Mouse spend a lot of time taking pottery, Libby becomes boy-crazy and takes more ballet classes.  What other plans do Sheila’s parents have for her? Swimming lessons – even though our girl is terrified. (Sheila insists to anyone who’ll listen that only babies swim where she comes from). Libby has a crush on Sheila’s swim instructor.  Sheila refuses to try to learn to swim, though she is eventually coerced into at least dog paddling.

Sheila and Mouse also become friends with the twins Jane and Sondra Van Arden, who look nothing alike.  At one point, Sheila’s parents allow her to have a slumber party with the three girls, which goes terribly terribly wrong in the way that only a slumber party featuring slam books can.  Ahhh slam books.  How you bullied people different than you before the age of Facebook.  Here’s what Sheila’s slam book page said about her: Her hair is a-parted crooked, b-should grow out, c-get it cut.  Her face is a-ugly but lovable, b-weird eyebrows, c-gruesome.  You get the point.  Her bad points were that she’s a chicken, is bossy and acts real tough.  But overall, she is interesting at least.  Naturally, the slam books cause a big fight, though the girls do make up.

At the end of the book, Sheila finally passes her swimming test.  She swam across the deep end and treaded water for two minutes.  It only took the whole freaking summer for her to do that, but she’s super proud of herself.  Then there is a farewell party hosted by Sheila’s parents for all their new friends in Tarrytown.  Jennifer the dog is knocked up, and Sheila thinks it might not be so bad if they get a puppy. 

  • Much of the book focuses on Sheila’s fears, which as I mentioned before, are numerous.  And it focuses on Sheila’s reactions to her fears, which is to act bossy and mean and fearless.  I think that kids might have a hard time seeing beyond Sheila’s facade to the vulnerability that’s inside.  (This is much like how I didn’t care for Harriet M. Welch when I was a kid, but as an adult, I could appreciate her much more.) 
  • Sheila tells us, the readers, about always being afraid of things, and it’s really kind of heartbreaking.  “I wonder why I had to be born like me instead of like Libby, who isn’t afraid of anything.  Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair.”  Also, because of her fears, she has to sleep with the blanket covering her ear.  I’m the same way, I’ve always had to fall asleep with my ear covered.  It’s because when I was a kid, I was afraid of bugs crawling in my ear.  Now it’s just habit.  A nightly occurrence in my bed at night is me asking my husband to stop tossing and turning because he’s uncovering my ear.  
  • Mouse tells Sheila the story of Ichabod Crane, because Sleepy Hollow was supposed to have taken place partially in Tarrytown.  So there’s yet another thing to be afraid of….headless horsemen. 
  • One of the twins, Sondra, is overweight.  Sheila, Jane and Mouse all call her out on it at the slumber party and shame her into having only two slices of pizza.  Way to create an anorexic.  In all fairness, Sheila harps on Libby for being too thin.  But that is part and parcel of the total honesty you’ll get in Judy’s books.  
  • Toward the end of the book, when Sheila’s swim instructor wants her to learn to put her face in the water, she refuses saying her reason is very important.  She admits to him finally that the very important reason is that she’s scared.  It’s the first she’s admitted this out loud in the entire book and it’s pretty sweet when the instructor says he’s proud of her for admitting to it.  And eventually, she sticks her face in and blows bubbles.  
  • God, slam books.  Proof of childhood cruelty right there.  Also, I’m totally going to look for Slam Book by Ann M. to review here. 
  • Judy is making a point here.  That people who seem to be behaving badly often have a reason.  That how people act on the outside can be hiding something on the inside.  Too bad I didn’t get that as a kid.  Also, too bad in real life, I’d find Sheila to be completely fucking insufferable.  Not too bad to read about – but it’d be hell to know her. 

Sorry my posting days have been a little off recently.  My son has begun outgrowing his naps leaving me with less consistent internet time.  So for those of you who’d gotten used to regular Tuesday postings….well that might be a thing of the past.  I still plan on posting a minimum of once a week.  It’ll just be a crap shoot when that can happen.  

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About nikkihb

Wife. Mother. Reader. Blogger.
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17 Responses to "I keep my bad points to myself." or Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great

  1. Jane Marie says:

    I liked this book as a kid, mainly because I was scared to death of the water and it took me all summer to swim to the deep end and tread water, too. I didn't act tough, though. I just freaked the eff out at every swim lesson. My swim teacher had to hate my guts.I liked how she thought she was going to have this amazing girly bedroom, and then it was a boys room full of models. Fail. I would have been pissed, too.

  2. Eb says:

    This was one that I owned and read religiously. Sheila was the complete opposite of me, but I found it neat to learn why people acted the way they did.I'd love to know how all of Judy's characters turned out as adults – that would be awesome.

  3. Amy says:

    !!!! This was my favorite Judy Blume book growing up. And I will absolutely own up to loving it because it was like reading about myself.

  4. Ally says:

    I loved this book, I loved every book Judy's ever published. Seriously. Can't you tell? FourthGradeNothing.com

  5. I really liked this one as a kid, though not as much as I liked the Peter/Fudge books. I never really did slumber parties as a kid, so I don't know much about slam books, but don't you need more than four kids there for that, so it's not obvious who wrote what?

  6. Shannon says:

    See, I loved this one as a kid — I'm pretty sure it was the first Judy Blume book I read. But like Jane Marie above, I related to Sheila. A LOT. Especially with the swimming. And the fear of dogs. And not being able to yo-yo.

  7. I freaking hearted this book as a kid…I need to reread it! I would swim, but I didn't like the deep end or the diving board, so I was a little behind other kids my age (didn't help that my redneck town was totally sports-crazy). Therefore, I could relate to Miss Sheila.I always liked Marty the swimming instructor–he was supportive and encouraging but not pushy.And don't worry about when you post or when you don't! I had the same guilt this past month with my own blog. We're not getting paid, so sometimes real life gets in the way!

  8. LadyJ3000 says:

    Wow, I didn't even realize that Sheila had a spinoff and I had read all of the Peter Hatcher books.

  9. Sadako says:

    I read this book I think but probably only once. The Fudge books were the ones I read and reread. I wasn't really that fond of Sheila–I sort of get why she acted as she did but she just comes off like one of the many bitchy insecure girls I've known. Plus I have a hard time sympathizing with a non-dog lover…but I think you did an awesome job articulating how we can have one view of a person and then realize they are not so bad when we see why they're acting as they do.And I agree with maybeimamazed–don't feel bad about not updating. Though it's always awesome when you do update. You choose great books and do wonderful posts about them!

  10. Sadako says:

    Also, I think that YA book writers love Mouse as a nickname for girls. I'm thinking of how Beth Ellen in the Long Secret (Harriet the Spy's sequel) was often called Mouse as a nickname. There's this Mouse. And there's also Mouse in the Witch saga books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. I feel like there are others, too…

  11. mdt says:

    I really disliked this book as a kid, too – I thought Sheila was insufferable. I'll take your word that it's a better read as a grown-up – I have a feeling Sheila would still piss me off, though.

  12. LOL – I love this review. I hate to say it, but this was a fav of mine growing up. I think it was the name of the book….. ;)I picked up a copy last year at a sale and thought what a wonderful walk down memory lane it would be…. brought it home and couldnt finish it. I decided that Sheila really does kind of suck. LOLI do love Blume thought and agree with you on Fudge, Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing… Are You There God – It's Me Margaret…

  13. Jen says:

    I wasn't the biggest fan of Sheila growing up. But a recent re-read as an adult really did make me love her, and appreciate Blume even more as an author.

  14. Amber says:

    My third grade teacher bought this book for me as an end-of-the-year present. I think I reminded her of sheila or vice versa…I guess that's a compliment…?

  15. I looooove Judy Blume! I'm going to the library tonight to get a few Blume books to read with my son!

  16. maryng says:

    Please do Slam Book! That book blew my mind as a kid.

  17. Pingback: “You forget everything,” Or Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac | Are You There Youth? It's Me, Nikki

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