Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and the Great One is a second grade level chapter book with characters who first appeared in a picture book, The Pain and the Great One by Judy Blume. The Pain and the Great One was originally written as a poem for the book that accompanied the album and television special that aired in 1974, Free To Be You and Me.
The picture book version of The Pain and The Great One, still in print, is the story in verse of two siblings, a girl, The Great One, a third grader, and her brother, The Pain, a first grader. Although short on text, the words and illustrations combine to depict sibling rivalry and the different perspectives kids have on their siblings and how their parents treat them. In 1974 the bare expressions of jealousy and hatred this brother and sister have for each other was probably pretty revolutionary. After all, Judy Blume was the spearhead of the movement that presented real experiences and emotions felt by children and preadolescents in children's literature. Today, in the world of Junie B Jones and other outspoken sassy characters in books, television and movies, this book might seem like old hat. Nevertheless, I think that there is plenty of room for The Pain and The Great One in the world of second grade level chapter books.
Abigail, the Pain and Jake, the Great One, are introduced in alternating chapters in the first few pages of the book. The characters are sometimes a bit too precious and precocious, like when the Pain wears earmuffs to his visit with Mr Soupy, the barber, and won't let him get near his ears. However, most of the book is made up of stories and qualities that ring true. There is a great chapter titled "Soccer Doc," starring Jake, that addresses the problem of playing a team sport with a coach (and Dad of a friend) who makes playing less fun. This dilemma is resolved nicely and there is a good balance of adult presence and kid autonomy in the stories. My favorite chapter in the book is titled, "Party Girl" and stars Abigail. Because her real birthday is on July 4th and always celebrated with family rather than with her friends, Abigail yearns for a real party with pink (not red, white and blue) cake, a sleep over with friends and the absence of her brother. Her parents allow her to celebrate her half-birthday and have the party of her dreams. Falling in January, the day is a snowy one one. Jake wakes up sick and can't go to grandma's as planned. Sasha's mom won't let her come because she gets asthma from every little cold. Kaylee is sick, too. That leaves Emily, who has never slept at a friend's house before and doesn't like pink. However, she agrees to give it a try and the party goes well until bedtime. Abigail copes admirably and manages to enjoy her pink cake as well.
As their names suggest, there is quite a bit of fighting that goes on between this brother and sister. I never fought with my brother that way and my kids don't really fight like the Pain and the Great One do, probably because their ages are so spread out, so I didn't appreciate those passages as much I wish I could have. My two boy usually result to physical violence pretty quickly, of which there is none in this book. If the Pain would just head-butt the Great One, causing her to squeal like a stuck pig once in a while, that would have felt familiar to me. But then it wouldn't have been the well-written, worthwhile book that it is.