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Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great

Realistic story about friendship and facing fears.

What parents need to know

Educational value

In Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, main character Sheila Tubman learns how to swim; kids will learn what sorts of things they have to do in the water to learn to swim and pass a beginning swimming test. Readers will also learn what sorts of activities children participate in at summer camp, and a little bit about Washington Irving's short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

Positive messages

Sheila Tubman often lies to hide her own fears and shortcomings. She's ashamed to admit that she can't do some of the things her peers can do, but this novel shows how much there is to be gained by facing her fears head-on. It also shows some good examples of the ways friends can argue and struggle but still remain friends.

Positive role models

Sheila Tubman's parents have a somewhat challenging job raising Sheila -- a child who is often ruled by fear but is resistant to admit her shortcomings. Mr. and Mrs. Tubman are patient, sensitive and encouraging; sometimes they are willing to work around her fears to make things easier on Sheila, but when it matters they stand firm.


When Sheila and her friends try to sneak into one girl's house by crawling through a small opening that exists for the milkman to deliver milk, one of the girls gets stuck and has to be pulled through. She ends up with numerous bruises and scrapes, and her friends help apply disinfectant and bandages. Any other threats -- scary dogs, lightning, drowning -- are figments of Sheila's imagination.


Sheila's sister, Libby (age 13), gets a boyfriend and they kiss.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Judy Blume's Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great is the second book in the "Fudge" series. However, this volume focuses on Sheila Tubman, a neighbor of the children at the center of the other Fudge books, Peter and Farley Drexel "Fudge" Hatcher. Sheila is a classmate of Peter's; this novel is set during the summer after fourth grade, when Sheila's family rents a house in Tarrytown, N.Y. Sheila is an extremely fearful child, and much of the novel focuses on experiences where she tries to mask, or has to face, the fears that create big obstacles in her young life. Other than a few kid scrapes and pranks, there are no violent or dangerous situations in the book outside of Sheila's imagination. This is good teaching material for parents of fearful children who are ashamed to admit or face their fears.

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What's the story?

Judy Blume's OTHERWISE KNOWN AS SHEILA THE GREAT is the second book in the author's \"Fudge\" series, most of which focuses on Peter Hatcher and his brother, Farley Drexel \"Fudge\" Hatcher. Sheila Tubman, the protagonist in this book, lives in the same building as the Hatchers and is one of Peter's classmates. This novel tells about the summer after fourth grade, when Sheila's family rents a house in Tarrytown, N.Y. Sheila is an extremely fearful child -- afraid of dogs, thunder, water, etc. -- but when she begins to make new friends in Tarrytown, many of the fears she tries to mask are exposed and she is forced to face them head on, and hope that her new friends will still like her.

Is it any good?


Sheila is a quite believable and lovable character despite -- or maybe because of -- her shortcomings. As in so many of her novels, Judy Blume creates realistic situations that are highly entertaining and teach kids important lessons without ever seeming false or preachy. Kids will identify with Sheila's reluctance to admit how scared she is, or admit that she doesn't know how to do some things other kids can do. Judy Blume has said that she endowed Sheila Tubman with all of her own childhood fears, and maybe that's why this book is so touching and so true.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Sheila's fear of dogs. Do you think her parents do the right things to help her get over this fear? Are you scared of anything the way Sheila is?

  • How do you think Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great compares with the first book in the "Fudge' series: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing?


  • Why do you think Sheila sometimes tells lies to hide her fears? Do you think her friends can tell? What would you do if you were Sheila?

Book details

Author:Judy Blume
Topics:Brothers and sisters, Friendship
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Penguin Group
Publication date:September 18, 1972
Number of pages:144
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 12

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Parent of a 7 and 9 year old Written byNonfatDecaf July 26, 2013

Be prepared for lots of "fat" references

This is an entertaining story about a 10-year-old girl (who has trouble with honesty) and the challenges she faces learning to swim, overcoming a fear of dogs, etc. What I wasn't prepared for were the multiple references to female weight and the associated "heavy=bad" messages, or all the references to dieting. Also, the two sisters have a fairly nasty relationship which I found difficult. Still, it made for an entertaining audio book on a road trip and gave us lots of stuff to talk about after.
Parent of a 7 and 10 year old Written bychandasz May 30, 2014

These books stand the test of time

I read these when I was a kid and now my kids love them too. My 7 year old is totally into them and I think it's completely appropriate for her age
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Educator and Parent Written byCommonSenseChristian May 8, 2015

Will the Real Sheila Tubman Please Stand Up?

Sheila Tubman longs to be brave and adventurous, so that's the portrait she presents to her friends. Behind that portrait hides the real Sheila--an insecure young girl terrified of the dark, spiders, swimming, and dogs. Sheila doesn't want anyone to find out those things, but her family's summer in Tarrytown, NY threatens to expose them all. Sheila's family is staying in a rented house with a huge dog, her room has spiders and strange creaks in it, and her parents are forcing her to take swimming lessons. Worse than that, Sheila's newest friend Mouse can do everything Sheila can't, like a champ. Can Sheila resurrect her summer and learn to be herself? Sheila's fears and troubles are highly relatable. Although Sheila herself comes across as arrogant at times, it's understandable for her age. She never outright says she's better off being herself, but she does grow in significant ways during the book. She lies to preserve her fake image, but eventually feels comfortable enough to show her true self to others. She and her friends get along well most of the time and have some classic summer fun at home and the local arts camp. The only major caveat comes from a scene in which Sheila, Mouse, and two other girls have a sleepover. During this, they make a Slam Book where they write hurtful truths about each other and make each other read them. One girl ends up crying and the whole group descends into a fight that involves flinging others' property around the room. They make up fairly quickly, though. If kids can handle that and a little bit of cattiness, they should be fine.
What other families should know
Great messages