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*Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and the Great One* by Judy Blume, illustrated by James Stevenson

Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and the Great One
by Judy Blume, illustrated by James Stevenson
Grades 2-3 128 pages Delacorte August 2007 Hardcover    

Eight-year-old Abigail has it tough. Her pretend bike-riding secret is in danger of being exposed. She’s been spied on during a private telephone conversation. Her cat, Fluzzy, is sleeping on the wrong bed at night, and her half-birthday party had one person too many. Life is unfair, and a six-year-old “Pain” is to blame.

Six-year-old Jake has it tough, too. His sister gets away with lying to her friends. His parents think it’s okay to send him away to Grandma’s house when there’s a sleepover scheduled at home. A birthday cake was made without any consideration of white roses, and his haircut involved green and pink cardboard ears. Life is unfair for him, too, and an eight-year-old “Great One” is to blame.

Judy Blume seven new stories about the Pain and the Great One all take place on Saturdays, and some of them involve “soup”. Jake and Abigail Porter were first seen in 1974 in the picture book The Pain and the Great One. In her new chapter book, Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and the Great One, Jake and Abigail have to cope with a scary haircut, bike riding fears, smelly babysitting duties, an unexpected flu, and no-fun soccer games. There is someone in the Porter family who doesn’t mind the bickering between Jake and Abigail, though. It’s at the end of Soupy Saturdays that readers learn the identity of this silent observer who has been playing along all this time.

They try to deny it, but these two quarreling siblings do care for one another, and it shows in their stories. It’s whispered in Jake’s ear while he’s enduring his haircut, and it happens after a tiara-induced laugh while discussing birthday invitations. Of course, these positive feelings are hard for them to keep in mind when, a few weeks later, possessions are being thrown around, nasty nicknames are being tossed back and forth, and heated chases develop.

Children will relate to these characters and their stories. It’s real life told in a way children recognize and understand. In her Soupy Saturdays stories, Judy Blume writes about the times children feel unloved or life feels unfair. The unfair, unloved times for Abigail and Jake are explored best in "The Great Pretender" and "Party Girl." In these stories, anger is revealed, jealousy put into words, and sadness shown. These emotional expressions allow Jake and Abigail to understand more about themselves and their relationship with each other. They also bring the siblings closer to the reader, making them more likeable and realistic.

Soupy Saturdays is told in two different voices. At the beginning of each chapter, the narrator is indicated with an illustration. This extra bit of information keeps the reader on track and circumvents any confusion that might emerge during the book.

Grey tones and highlights add dimension to James Stevenson’s black-and-white illustrations, drawn with broken, loose lines and found on almost every page of the book. Throughout the story, Stevenson varies the sizes and composition of his illustrations to keep the pages interesting and fresh. His casual, relaxed illustrations fit perfectly with the lighthearted, down-to-earth lives of the characters in this book. Stevenson has written and illustrated over one hundred books for children and over two thousand cartoons and numerous writings for the New Yorker.

Award-winning author Judy Blume writes for children, young adults, and adults. She is on a several literacy boards and is the founder of the educational foundation The Kids Fund. Soupy Saturdays is the first in a series of four chapter books, and she is also working on a new Fudge book.

Despite Jake and Abigail’s goading and pestering ways, readers will finish this book knowing that, deep down, Jake and Abigail do love each other. I am glad their stories will be continuing.
Beginning readers book reviews for developing, emerging and fluent readers

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  Tanya Boudreau/2007 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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