Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great is one of Judy Blume’s best character books. Sheila is the antagonist from the Fudge series by Blume.
Judy Blume has the ability to write from a child’s world revealing all the insecurities of childhood and making the character relatable. As a child, I loved reading her books because I felt I could be one of the characters and loved how she made everything confusing about childhood into something that could be changed. Sheila Tubman is a classic example of a girl who has fears, insecurities and in trying to cover them up, discovers a strength in herself.
Sheila “the great” Tubman is a moving to the suburb of Tarrytown with her parents and sister, Libby, to get out of New York City for the summer. Her father is a professor and is renting a home from a professor and his family of boys. Not only is Sheila left without a trip to Disneyland, she has to go to summer camp. Needless to say, 10 year old Sheila isn’t excited but warms to the idea after hearing that she will get her own room and that she does not have to see her neighbors, Peter and Fudge, all summer!
Once she gets to their summer house, Sheila is met with a few obstacles. Her fear of dogs comes to life as they have to watch the homeowner’s dog, Jennifer, all summer. Sheila is not happy and convinces her parents to keep Jennifer outside.
Jennifer. That dumb old dog! She looked up at me and barked. I barked right back at her. I knew we should have gone to Disneyland.
Then, she gets Bobby’s room. Which is a boy’s room. Filled with model airplanes and a note warning any visitors to not mess with them!
Things look up when Sheila meets her neighbor, Mouse Ellis. Sheila makes excuses for all of her fears (dogs = hives, swimming = cold and playing with yo-yo = a past life). Mouse is skeptical, especially after Sheila’s mother announces that Sheila will be taking swimming lessons during the summer.
But where I come from, yo-yo’s are for babies. I haven’t done Shotgun for about eight years now. That’s why I missed.
Sheila looks forward to camp when she realizes that she loves pottery class and doesn’t stray from the craft. However, Sheila is quite afraid of swimming and really does not want to take swimming lessons with her instructor, Marty, no matter how great Mouse says she is!
Because I don’t ever want to swim. I know I won’t be able to. I know I will sink to the bottom and everyone will laugh and Marty will have to save me.
Over the course of the summer, Sheila confronts her fear of swimming, dogs, thunderstorms, and covering up those fears. Near the end of the summer, Sheila has a slumber party at her house. She and her friends, at Mouse’s suggestion create a Slam Book. It sounds like fun but in the end hurts each girl with anonymous and mean comments. Sheila is upset and finds out they think that she is bossy.
But I didn’t care, because she also wrote that I am an interesting person and I like that idea a lot. Even Sondra and Jane wrote that in general I am okay. And that’s what counts. So what if they think I’m bossy? It’s only because I know more than they do. (…) But to be an interesting person! Well, not everyone can be that. That is something special!
By summer’s end and the Tubman’s are on their way back to the city, Sheila realizes her summer may have been better than she thought!
I love watching her thought processes and confidence grow. Sheila’s realization of being interesting as an asset just tickles me because she has an authentic confidence. Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great is a great ( pun intended!) book for upper elementary and middle school grade children. She faces fears and overcomes them, in a delightfully funny book!
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