Committee for Children Blog

Book Review: Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and the Great One

by Judy Blume; Illustrated by James Stevenson
Reading level: Grades 1–4

Ahh, sibling rivalry. Who among us has not stooped to such fine exchanges as this one, between first grader Jake and his older sister, Abigail:

“You’re a big bowl of spider soup!”
“Mmm…sounds yummy!”
“Spider poop soup! That’s what you are.”
Then she got mad and yelled, “That’s it!” And she started chasing me.

Jake (a/k/a The Pain) and Abigail (a/k/a The Great One), bicker and tease regularly, whether over The Great One’s half-birthday party or The Pain’s use of his sister’s best markers. Still, although they won’t admit it, these two lively characters really do care about each other. When Jake develops a fear of haircuts, Abigail comes up with an ingenious solution. And Jake, relentless pest though he is, manages to keep his sister’s big secret about not knowing how to ride a bike.

Judy Blume’s latest chapter book, accompanied by humorous line drawings from beloved illustrator James Stevenson, is packed with warm, authentic vignettes from one family’s life. She even addresses the complex issue of lying versus pretending in an especially good chapter about Abigail’s sensitivity to her friends’ finding out about her secret. Both children experience a range of emotions as they go through their days, from disappointment over not getting to babysit, to anxiety about what will happen to their aunt’s dog after they wash her with human shampoo, to sheer delight in bike riding or kicking a soccer ball around.

Social and Emotional Lessons in Soupy Saturdays

Readers will have plenty to discuss throughout Soupy Saturdays. Anyone with a sibling or a friend knows all about the day-to-day battles to maintain one’s position in the relationship. Walking the narrow line between teasing and tormenting is tricky, with many tumbles into the far side.

Some elements to discuss: When Jake and his friend are frustrated with their soccer league, Abigail steps in as the older, wiser sister, and helps them realize, to their astonishment, that they need to speak up for what they want. When Abigail’s uncle tries to help her ride her bike, she must go through internal gyrations to get over her fear that people will see her fail. Ironically, it’s her brother’s voice in her head—”Abigail can’t ride a bike”—that makes her decide it would feel really good to prove him wrong. Finally, do Abigail and Jake love each other? How can you tell? Is it okay to argue with someone you love?

Emilie Coulter
Book Reviewer
Committee for Children