“Sometimes I think I am really two people. I am the only one who knows sheila tubman—afraid of dogs, spiders, the dark, thunder…can’t swim, work a yo-yo, never heard of Washington Irving. Everyone else knows only SHEILA THE GREAT—knowledgeable, witty, afraid of nothing.”
National Reading Month moves along to week four, and to yet another female protagonist. This one doesn’t have the telekinetic abilities of Matilda Wormwood, nor the incredible imagination of one Ramona Quimby, and definitely isn’t a mouse (or a mother) like Mrs. Frisby. However, like Ramona Quimby, she’s easy to relate to because she’s the rest of us, with normal, perfectly rational childhood fears and the longing to belong and be more than they already are, while not realizing they’re fine just the way the are.
This is the story of “The Great” Sheila Tubman, and she’s alot like you.
Otherwise Known As Sheila The Great
Otherwise Known as Sheila The Great is a 1972 novel, a spin-off in the “Fudge” series of books by Judy Blume.
Sheila Tubman is going to live in Tarrytown, New York (a “village” of the town of Greenburgh, in Westchester County, 25 miles from New York City) for the summer, away from the hustle and bustle of her usual residence, New York City. In addition to living in a summer house (which isn’t more girly, since the owners have boys), Sheila will be attending a day camp. She’s ten years old, and lives with alot of reasonable childhood fears – a fear of dogs, swimming, spiders, and the dark. So day camp, not to mention the actual homeowners’ pregnant dog, is great for conquering those fears, right?
Sheila meets a new friend, Merle “Mouse” Ellis, who is adept with yo-yo tricks and full of courage. They hit it off immediately. At day camp, Sheila single-handedly creates a camp newspaper, complete with crossword puzzle that gets solved by two boys – the prize is that they get to run the paper, as Sheila forgot to specify what the prize would be if the crossword was solved. She takes swimming lessons, accomplishing enough to earn a beginner’s certificate, and without incident (because something should be easy for her, right?), paints the backdrop for the camp’s production of Peter Pan.
Amidst hurt feelings at a sleepover with friends over comments in slam books, in which Sheila’s belief that her attempts at covering up her fears are successful (the friends reconcile), Sheila’s sister Libby adopting a puppy, and an end-of-summer barbecue party, Sheila realizes that despite everything, that she had a great summer.
Did Allison Read About Sheila The Great?
Why yes. Yes I did!
I actually got Otherwise Known As Sheila The Great from a book order form in third grade. At least, I think third grade, since that was when I read Fudge-A-Mania for required classroom reading.
Fudge-A-Mania was my introduction to Peter Hatcher, his annoying little brother Farley Drexel “Fudge” Hatcher, and Sheila Tubman, who is a classmate and archrival of Peter’s (because he doesn’t deal with enough from his younger brother). I guess I liked the story enough to read more, and I read the other books in the series in third and fourth grades, save for Double Fudge, which came out when I was in college, as opposed to all the other books, which came out between 1972 and 1990. Turns out, Peter Hatcher, like Ramona Quimby, is the world’s oldest kid, only aging to 12 years old by the last book – he had thirty years between the first and last books in his series.
As for Sheila, my mom actually picked out the story in the book order form, figuring I would like it since I read Fudge-A-Mania. I actually did love it. And like any great story, it is amazing how much of the story stick with you after so many years. I remember how annoyed Sheila was about the prospect of sleeping in a boy’s bedroom (right down to the details of that bedroom), the printing of the newspaper, and not knowing what a mimeograph machine was – newer versions have a broken copier mentioned, Mouse’s sister’s “dog” named Ootch, and the Van Arden twins. Like the female protagonists I’ve read about in my childhood (and ones I’ve re-read as an adult), Sheila feels easy to relate to, and you just know that she’ll be ok – the fact that she can conquer her fears in a realistic manner means she will be alright.
And hey, she can deal with having a puppy, so that’s a huge step towards progress, right?
Sheila continued to appear in the “Fudge” books, sans the next book in the series, Superfudge. When she returns in Fudge-A-Mania, she’ll be taking another summer vacation… this time with her archnemesis Peter’s family.
I think it is a shame she didn’t have a series of her own beyond being included as a character in the “Fudge” books – she had potential for a few stories for herself!
And Now, You?
Did you ever read the “Fudge” series of books, including Sheila’s one-off story? Do you remember the stories? Sound off in the comments, or be social on social media. Sharing is also appreciated! You just never know who might see this!
Next week, we wrap up National Reading Month, shifting away from stories about strong female protagonists in their respective stories, and to another favorite of my kid lit years, to a subject I’m otherwise not a huge fan of…poetry.
Have a great day, and keep reading!