Fourth grader Peter Hatcher has a terrible problem – his little brother Fudge! The first in a very funny five book series.
When I began to write our babysitter, Willie Mae Bartlett, brought me an article from the newspaper about a toddler who swallowed a tiny pet turtle. This was in the late sixties, when you could still buy turtles for pets. Willie Mae thought the story might inspire me. And it certainly did! I sat down and wrote a picture book called "Peter, Fudge and Dribble." I submitted my manuscript to several publishers but they all rejected it. Two editors wrote personal notes saying they found the story very funny but one was concerned that it could lead to small children swallowing turtles, and the other found it too unbelievable to publish.
A few years later, my first agent submitted the story to Ann Durell, editor of children's books at E.P. Dutton. Ann invited me to lunch. I was so nervous I could hardly eat but she was so warm and friendly I finally relaxed. Ann liked my story but she suggested, instead of a picture book, I consider writing a longer book about the Hatcher family, using "Peter, Fudge and Dribble" as one of the chapters.
I loved her idea and went home fired up and ready to write. That summer I wrote the book, basing the character of Fudge on my son, Larry, when he was a toddler. Though I still lived in suburban New Jersey, I set the book in New York City, in the building where my best friend, Mary Weaver, lived with her family. I changed the address but the elevator I describe in the book with its mirrored wall and upholstered bench is exactly as it was, and still is, in Mary’s building.
I proudly sent the finished manuscript to my agent but after she’d read it she said, "I don't think this is anything like what Ann had in mind." I was stunned and asked her to show it to Ann anyway. She did. Ann liked the manuscript and offered to publish it just as it was (I think it was the only book I’ve ever written that I didn’t revise). I was ecstatic.
We had a problem with my original title, "Peter, Fudge and Dribble," because another book had just come out called "Peter Potts." I couldn't come up with anything I liked as well and finally sent Ann a list of twenty possibilities, among them, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. That's the one Ann chose.
The book is dedicated to Larry, of course, and to Willie Mae, who brought me that article from the paper.