Nobody gets through childhood without a Judy Blume book. And the gateway drug that ultimately leads you to Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Blubber, Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, and Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself (not to mention Forever; don’t pretend you didn’t read it, especially “the good parts”) is usually Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.
This 1972 novel, set in New York City, taught millions of American kiddos that Fudge can be more than a candy, peas taste better squished into your hair, and (spoiler alert) the best way to get a dog is for your little brother to eat your pet turtle.
And while we don’t recommend road-testing either the pea deep-conditioning treatment or the edible turtle experience, we do invite you to try our Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing walking tour, where you and your family can fearlessly follow in the Manhattan-dwelling footsteps of Peter and Fudge Hatcher, their parents and their neighbors, Sheila and Jimmy (while wondering why Sheila gets her own spin-off book and Jimmy doesn’t). Keep reading for our step by step tour.
1. See where they live
Start on 25 West 68th Street, the address to Peter’s building, where he lives on the 12th floor in a two-bedroom apartment (which presumably gets a great deal more crowded once the dog arrives – no wonder they end up hightailing it to Princeton, New Jersey in the sequel, Superfudge).
Currently the building houses the offices of Ernst Fine Art, dentist Nguyen Kien, and therapist Judy Grossman, don’t bother asking for doorman Henry Bevelheimer — he only exists in the Blume universe. These days, rents in the area range from $2,700 to $6,200. This is definitely not NYC in the 1970s. (Another way you know times have changed: It’s now illegal to buy and sell turtles smaller than 4 inches; perhaps because they made such tempting snacks for rambunctious preschoolers?)
The building is close to all of the major subways, zoned for the extremely high-scoring and coveted (though, as a result, overcrowded) PS 199 and within striking distance of Lincoln Center. In other words, a classic, NYC gem. Hopefully, the Hatchers had a rent-controlled unit.
2. Play on their favorite jungle gym
Want to see the Central Park playground where Fudge knocks out his two front teeth by jumping off the jungle gym while pretending to be a bird (kids, don’t try this at home)? Blume doesn’t give its exact location, only saying that it’s within walking distance of the Hatchers’ apartment. If we assume that Peter wanted to spend as little time as possible with Fudge and so took him to the nearest playground available, we can deduce that Fudge’s flight-related mishap took place at Heckscher Playground on 7th Avenue at West 63rd Street. The playground offers a range of play equipment including 14 swings, seesaws and a wooden suspension bridge, along with a water fixture and climbing rocks. Opened in 1926 as a gift of philanthropist August Heckscher, it was the Park’s first modern playground.
Unfortunately for the literal and historically minded, Heckscher Playground was heavily renovated in the fall of 2006. The new version incorporates contemporary ideas about playground design and, even more unfortunately, up-to-date safety standards. The cement and asphalt that dominated the playground in the 1960s was replaced. Which means that those hoping to knock their own two front teeth out in homage to Peter and Fudge will have a much tougher time of it. (Insert sigh of relief here!)
3. Ride their bus line
Continue your just-like-Peter-and-Fudge-trek by hopping on the M66 cross-town bus at West 66th Street same as they did (if you’d like to save yourself the fare – which, in a familiar refrain, is a great deal more today than the $.35 cents it had just been raised to in 1972 – you can walk the route, it isn’t a very long one through Central Park) and head to the East Side for a visit with the dentist, or not.
4. Shop for shoes
Follow up your bus ride with a disastrous trip to the shoe department at Bloomingdale’s on 1000 3rd Avenue.
5. Eat a burger
Did our tour make you work up an appetite? Have lunch at the nearest Hamburger Heaven. Which isn’t a real location, but there is a a Burger Heaven at 9 East 53rd Street, so close enough, right?
Where are you planning your next adventure in NYC?
Images by Scholastic Books and CentralParkNYC.org