Three decades after introducing young readers to Peter Hatcher and his energetic, five-year-old brother, Fudge, in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Judy Blume has written the fifth novel starring these siblings and their family. Dutton Children's Books will publish Double Fudge next month, when it will also reissue hardcover editions of the prior Fudge tales, which (in addition to the inaugural book) are Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Superfudge and Fudge-a-Mania.

Stephanie Lurie, president and publisher of Dutton, and the editor of Double Fudge, noted that the timing of this latest caper is "serendipitous," as it coincides not only with the 30th anniversary of Fudge's debut but also with Dutton's 150th anniversary. She reported "across-the-board enthusiasm" for the new title from booksellers and such healthy advance orders that a first printing of 250,000 copies is on order. Retailers' high expectations are understandable: more than 75 million copies of Blume's books have been sold worldwide, and her work has been translated into 26 languages.

Speaking by phone from her summer home on Martha's Vineyard, Blume reminisced about the genesis of Fudge. "I was just starting my writing career," she recalled. "I had never published anything and didn't know if I ever would publish anything. The character of Fudge was inspired by my son, Larry, and the plot was inspired by a newspaper article about a toddler who swallowed the family's pet turtle."

Blume originally wrote the first Fudge story as a picture book and showed it to her agent, who offered to introduce her to Ann Durell, then publisher of Dutton Children's Books. "Ann invited me to lunch and I was incredibly nervous. This was a huge event in my life," she explained. "Ann liked the story well enough, but suggested I expand it into a chapter book. I loved the idea and spent the summer writing it, but when I sent it to my agent, she said that she didn't think that this was what Ann had in mind at all but would send it along to her anyway. I was crushed, since I'd had such a good time writing it."

While she awaited Durell's reaction (which was clearly a positive one) to Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Blume wrote a follow-up tale, this one centering on Peter's nemesis, Sheila Tubman. "The best thing you can do for yourself after you've sent a book in to a publisher and you don't know what will become of it is to sit down and write another book," she said.

Never Say Never

Though Blume was convinced that she would never write about these young Manhattan residents again, obviously that wasn't to be. "I probably would never have written another, but over the years, I received thousands of letters from kids begging for another Fudge book and, eventually, I decided that if I got the right idea I'd give it a try," she said. "And then one day, while I was in the shower, the idea popped into my head. I would give the Hatchers a new baby and move them out of the city for a school year. So I sat down and began writing the book that would become Superfudge."

Another 12 years passed and, in Blume's words, "again the kids wouldn't let it go. Again, I said I'd consider it if the right idea came along. And then one summer, while vacationing in Maine, I decided that I'd do one last book--a reunion story that would bring all the characters together in a summer house in Maine. So I wrote Fudge-a-mania and said, 'That is it. I will never write another Fudge book.'"

But that was before the birth of her grandson Elliot, now 11 and a big Fudge fan. When Elliot repeatedly begged for a new novel featuring Fudge, Blume once again promised to write a book if an idea surfaced. Over a year ago, sitting outdoors at an Key West restaurant with her grandson as chickens and roosters scurried amid the tables, a new Fudge plot took shape. When Elliot asked if she would purchase something for him, Blume replied that she had no money and he advised her to find an ATM. "It occurred to me that children today see these machines spitting out money without understanding how or why. And I suddenly envisioned Fudge becoming obsessed with money." And so Double Fudge was born.

Listening Library will simultaneously issue an audiobook of Double Fudge, with Blume reading her novel. According to Mary Beth Roche, LL's v-p and director of publicity, this audiobook "is eagerly awaited and is going to be huge," adding that the audiobook versions of the previous Fudge books, all of which Listening Library has issued, are "enormously popular."

Blume's research for her latest book, which is dedicated to Elliot, included a trip with him to Washington, D.C., where they visited the Bureau of Printing and Engraving and the National Zoo--both stops on the Hatcher family's itinerary during their trip to the Capital in the new novel. While in D.C., the Hatchers also meet up with long-lost, comically eccentric cousins from Florida, whom, Blume mused, "just might have opened the door for a Fudge book set in Florida, since cousin Howie extends an invitation to the New York City Hatchers to visit them. But at this point I don't know if that will ever happen."

Lurie would like to see Fudge and his family visit the Everglades for Christmas. "I said to Judy, 'What a great idea for the next book!'" she recalled. "Of course we would love to have another Fudge novel, but the ideas have to come to Judy at the right time. Yet we can always hope."