This realistic fiction book by Megan McDonald is the 13th in the "Judy Moody" series and is published by Candlewick Press.
Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer is written for kids ages 6 to 9. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
The book opens on the last day of school (before summer break) for Judy Moody and her friends. Her teacher, Mr. Todd, says he'll be working somewhere cold this summer and offers a prize to anyone who can find him. Judy is concerned that her summer will be boring and has a plan for herself and her three closest friends (Amy, Rocky and Frank) to make sure the summer isn't boring. She creates a game that involves a list of 'dares,' meaning something fun, but never done by that person before and is borderline frightening. Thrill points are earned by successfully completing the dare, and bonus points are added if the dare is done in an extreme way. Loser points are given if the dare is not completed. If the final score breaks 100 points, then summer was confirmed exciting. It's a fine plan, but Judy doesn't realize that two of the four of them (Rocky and Amy) will be out of town for the summer. Making matters worse, their own plans (circus camp and a trip to Borneo) sound far more exciting than hers.
Stuck at home with nothing more to do than read Nancy Drew adventures, Judy is not happy. It doesn't help when she learns that her parents will be traveling to California to help her grandparents move and that she and her brother, James (who goes by the nickname Stink), will be staying home from that trip, too. Their Aunt Opal is coming to watch them for the summer. Judy has not met Aunt Opal, but she assumes the worst. Aunt Opal, however, is surprisingly interesting — a free spirit who lives a life of adventure (including a stint in the Peace Corps, a trip across the Sahara Desert, and most recently, living in Bali).
Judy realizes that perhaps the four friends can still do the dare game, although they will need to keep track of their own points. To increase the stakes, Judy decides to make it a race, where they will be competing against each other. The first one to 100 points wins.
This begins a series of well-intended adventures designed to rack up points as quickly as possible, but every adventure goes horribly wrong. An attempt at tightrope walking across the local creek is threatened when Stink claims one of the trees to build a Bigfoot trap. Once Judy and Frank have the tree to themselves, Judy loses her balance crossing the rope and falls into the creek. A trip to the amusement park is ruined when Frank throws up on her. An art project with Aunt Opal is ruined when Judy accidentally glues her hand to the table. It takes several hours to get free. Going on a zombie walk through a graveyard at midnight sounds promising, and Aunt Opal even makes sandwiches for a picnic beforehand. Unfortunately, Aunt Opal hasn't driven a car for a long time; they quickly lose the map out the window and spend several hours careening around town. Eventually they end up stranded — out of gas and hopelessly lost outside an abandoned amusement park in the middle of the night. They go inside the park to eat their sandwiches, but their sandwiches had gotten too close to Stink's 'scat' collection in the kitchen and have manure samples on them. It's noticed before anyone eats them, but makes for a long, hungry night.
Another time they try going to a local horror movie festival (complete with monster costumes), but the scary zombie movie is too much for Frank, and he leaves. This is bad on several levels: Judy tries to force Frank to stay in the theater and ends up tearing his shirt. The two of them argue, and he complains that her obsession with quick points is taking all the fun out of the summer. And since they didn't stay through the movie, Judy can't even claim any thrill points for completing the dare.
Several times through all of these adventures gone wrong, Judy and Frank think they've found Mr. Todd's cold summer job, but they can't find him to win even that prize. Judy also keeps hearing about her friends' more successful summer adventures and the thrill points they are gaining. In turn, she can write to them only of her 'failures,' such as when she and Aunt Opal try to deliver their art projects (hats for the stone library lions) in the rain. Or when she and Frank try learning to surf, and Judy ends up kissing a dead jellyfish.
Finally, in desperation, Judy joins her brother in his own summer adventure: a quest to find Bigfoot. There have been numerous Bigfoot sightings in town throughout the summer, and her brother is convinced that not only is he real, but living nearby. Throughout most of the book, Judy has looked down on Stink's quest with big sister disdain. But that changes upon realizing that finding Bigfoot would mean lots of thrill and bonus points, and might actually let her win this race against her friends. So Judy jumps in with abandon, which includes Bigfoot Believers Association meetings, overnight stakeouts, bait traps and night vision goggles.
At first, it really does appear to be more of the same — one more promising adventure with repeated disappointments. At one stakeout, Judy and Stink 'capture' Frank (who looks considerably more like Bigfoot through Judy's night vision goggles, especially when he is tangled in their bait traps). Another time they clearly see Bigfoot and give a valiant, chaotic, and rather destructive chase through the neighborhood using bikes, a Vespa scooter and a van. Admittedly, it's weird when Bigfoot commandeers an ice cream truck, but even that makes sense by the end. (This particular sighting involves Zeke, a teenager who was asked to dress up as Bigfoot and come on a local ice cream route to help drum up business.) Zeke is not behind all the sightings though — he's one of the Bigfoot Believers Association leaders and quite convinced that Bigfoot is real and living somewhere in their neighborhood.
At this point in the story, things do begin to look up. Although no Bigfoot, they do find Mr. Todd at the end of the chase. He is the ice cream man who hired Zeke. And the prizes Mr. Todd gives to students who find him at his summer job are tickets to the circus, which is coming to town. This is the same circus that Judy's friend Rocky has been training for at circus camp. Judy gets an extra ticket for Frank and apologizes to him for letting an obsession with winning overshadow the summer. Judy's parents come home from California in time to see the circus. And at the circus, Rocky picks Judy as the audience volunteer for the act where they appear to saw someone in half.
Now that Judy and Stink's parents are home, Aunt Opal prepares to leave. Before going though, she sneaks Judy out to deliver the hats they made together — placing them quietly on the stone lions at the library. Although this does earn Judy 10 official thrill points, we get the sense that she is, in fact, grateful for the whole summer — even the adventures that didn't earn her points at the time. As they head back home, Judy sees a tall, shaggy figure disappearing into the brush. All Aunt Opal sees when she looks back are branches rustling in its wake, which confirms nothing (except that Judy did apparently see something tangible). When they arrive back at Judy's house, Stink has set up shop on the front lawn, selling tickets to 'touch Bigfoot.' This is not the mystery figure Judy just saw, but the art sculpture on their lawn that Aunt Opal made earlier in the story. Judy jumps into this opportunity, too, eager to earn money to go to France next summer with Aunt Opal.
Adult authority roles are rare in this book. Mr. Todd holds a position of authority as the kids' teacher, and they genuinely like him. Although his role in this book does not involve him much as an authority figure, he gives one short (and not serious) pop quiz on the last day of school, then disappears until the end of the book, when he hands out circus tickets. Judy's parents are equally transitory in this book. They appear in time to leave town at the beginning and then return in time for the circus at the end. They do tell Stink that it's rude to read at the table, but when he protests, they do not train him to change his behavior. And they tell Judy no candy for breakfast, but that rule is broken after an especially bad day.
Aunt Opal is the adult who spends the most time with the kids. She is a warm-hearted, generous and adventurous woman, and genuinely enjoys her niece and nephew. But in terms of child-care qualifications, she is more ideal in a child's eyes than a parent's. She does not seem to have an adult's sense of the difference between adventure and danger (such as driving the kids, without knowing how to drive, and being out after dark). But she is also in a background role in their lives — staying home doing art while a high-school student takes the kids to the amusement park for the day, or directing Judy and Stink to take the tent outside during their Bigfoot stakeout, while she stays inside the house to wait for their call. She is quick to encourage Judy and Stink, but sets no corresponding limits on their behavior or attitude. She expresses disappointment about the house rules or breaks them. And when it's clear that she doesn't know how to drive a car, Stink tries to teach her on his video game.
Other belief systems
Several characters believe that Bigfoot is real. But somewhat ironically, there is no sense that the spirit world is real. For example, watching a graphic horror movie about zombies (the living dead, who stalk people and eat body parts) or going to a haunted house event in a real cemetery at midnight are portrayed as normal activities for kids — edgy and scary, perhaps, but not spiritually dangerous. The assumption in the book seems to be that if such things frighten the children, the kids should face their fears and get over them, because these things are not real.
Mild profanity, such as crap, geez, geez Louise, and Holy ____ (Pluto, crap, eyeball, and macaroni) are used. There is excessive use of 'gross' language in this book (excrement: poop, dung, doo-doo, manure, crap, scat; vomit: puke, upchuck, spewed, spurting stream, chunky; spit: slobber; slime: slimy, bubbly, burping, glop; other: pee, boogers). Gross situations are described in detail, such as trying to hide a note inside one's mouth but accidentally spitting it out wet on a desk, a toad peeing on someone's hands and someone vomiting on someone else. The slang used often is given new meanings, such as sick-awesome, sweet, rare, and frog. Also, there are some brand new words. These are usually creative and fun. Examples include: mega-total-super-seriously or oogley-boogley. And some slang is cutesy: little loo-loo for a washroom.
Insults abound in this book. Some are probably meant with affection (Judy calling her brother Stinkerbell). But child characters are quick to call peers and adults more insulting names too, such as wimpburger, pukehead, or super-galactic booger. They pass regular insulting judgments along the lines of: you are a _____ , or snore like a ______ , or smell worse than ______ , etc.
Most violence in the book could be called mild (slamming doors, shoving, yelling, unrealistic threats, etc). Although not graphic, it is common and not seen as a problem.
Three is graphic violence in the horror movie scene that Judy and Frank see. Outside, a man takes tickets dressed as a vampire with blood dripping down his fangs. Inside (onscreen), a group of zombies stagger toward a woman. Her dress gets caught in a car door, and her scream gives the audience chills. An eyeball falls out and rolls away. The zombies continue to take over the town, punching their way through walls and pushing down doors. One appears to be eating a human leg. Another staggers in with blood on his face, announcing that he is there to eat them for dinner. When Frank decides that he has had enough, Judy grabs his shirt to keep him in the theatre. He pulls away, and it rips. They get into a shouting match outside the theatre where she threatens and insults him.
The references to kissing are not romantic. Judy writes to a friend that she kissed a dead jellyfish learning to surf at the beach, but does not explain further. When Judy and Frank go to the horror movie dressed as Frankenstein and his bride, Judy's younger brother teases them with that well-known children's rhyme about sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g. There are also non-sexual references to nakedness: Judy describing her chart, empty of thrill points, with words like Baresville and half-naked. At their Bigfoot stakeout, Stink says that Frank "scared the pants off" Judy. There is also a scene where they are looking for Mr. Todd and think he might be in the men's washroom. Frank runs in, and Judy follows. Frank immediately escorts her out.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Judy was concerned that summer would be boring again.
What summer activities would you find boring?
What activities would you find exciting?
Should life always be exciting?
- Judy assumes the worst about her Aunt Opal before meeting her, calling her Aunt Awful, saying that she probably has warts and evil eyes, and will make them eat fish guts. Stink's first response to Aunt Opal's unusual homemade desert is to say it reminds him of Bigfoot barf.
What changes the kids' minds?
Who has assumed the worst about you?
Who have you assumed the worst about? How did things turn out in the end?
- How do you treat people you disagree with?
How does Judy treat the people in the Bigfoot Believers Association when she first meets them?
Why does her opinion of them change?
Does she ever feel bad for how she spoke to and about them before?
How do you know?
- In this book, a lot of characters respond to something that they don't understand, expect or agree with by insulting that person, thing or idea. I have mentioned Aunt Opal's personality and the Bigfoot Believers, but can you find other examples in the book?
How much of your humor (or your friends' humor or the comedy on TV) involves making fun of people or ideas that you don't agree with?
In the book, no one seems to get mad about being treated like this.
Do you get upset when you are the brunt of someone's joke or are insulted by someone?
How should you treat others?
- Judy is exuberant — full of enthusiasm and ideas and emotions.
Is that a good or bad thing? Explain.
Why might God make some of us loud and emotional and others quiet and more serious?
Are you more often loud or quiet?
What are some of Judy's natural strengths?
What kind of jobs would she be really good at as adult?
What in her personality might cause her some problems, either with her friends and family, at school, or even in her future job?
- When Judy gets angry, sometimes she threatens people (for example, wishing she could cut Rudy or Frank in two).
Does she mean what she says?
Should her friends be afraid of her?
What advice would you give her about how she treats others?
Danger: Danger (physical or otherwise) is not portrayed realistically in this story. For example, Judy is able to walk partway across a tightrope strung across a creek on her very first try.
Disobedience: Judy sneaks out of bed and takes her laptop computer into her closet in order to secretly email her friends at night.
Disrespect: Characters interrupt someone with a hand over their mouths or pounding on a closed bedroom door instead of knocking. Sometimes a word emphasis is spelled, such as BOR-ring or N-O-W.
Anger management: Appropriate behavior during Judy's bad moods is never addressed. For example, when angry, Judy does the following with no consequence (from an authority figure or otherwise): slams doors, shouts ROAR, yells at her brother, threatens her friends, blames them for her troubles, pouts in her room and vows to stay there for the summer. Her aunt does try to coax Judy out of these moods, but she never discusses her destructive behavior. Her friends seem either endlessly forgiving or completely tuned out to what she is saying to them.
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