Why is Hating on “Nice Characters” Becoming Cool?

A lot of this is TV-related, but since TV shows tell stories, I feel like it’s worth talking about here.

How many Office fans have seen the recent Pam hate circulating the internet? Memes call her out for being jealous of Karen, “cheating” on Roy, and for “destroying Jim’s dream” near the end of the show…even though *spoilers* she felt bad about it and secretly sold their house so he could pursue said dream? At first I thought it was a joke. As one of the saner characters in the show, I thought, “okay, haha, that’s a funny way of looking at it.” But as this meme started circulating and people began to get angry, I wondered if people were truly starting to hate her.

Of course, people are entitled to like or dislike any character they want. But Pam hate is becoming a weird fad that hasn’t really started until the past year or two. So the online hivemind is one option for this trend, I suppose. Maybe the argument was presented in such a way that people started to believe it. Or maybe people like that others have a dark side that you wouldn’t think they’d have. The Office’s Angela rarely gets talked about or made fun of for her personality, maybe because her abrasive nature is what viewers see a lot already. Angela tried to have someone killed, and it rarely gets talked about in favor of Pam’s “flaws.”

One other disconcerting “flaw” that some others have pointed out is that Pam “lost her appeal” when she became more outspoken. Most of these fans, that I saw, were men. Do they dislike her for using her voice? So, people don’t like Pam for speaking out, but it’s also bad when she’s not particularly loud or noticeable? That’s a double standard, one that I have experienced for myself–and a concerning one at that. Should female characters be attacked for growing and changing? I don’t think so!

But the same thing happens for other characters too. Taken with a major grain of salt since I am not a big show watcher, there is also Alex from Modern Family. Although neither of these sisters are perfect, I see absolutely no dislike for Haley, who is (in my opinion) one of the most awful characters on modern television–a popular bully who makes fun of almost everyone and doesn’t show a lot of kindness (at least earlier on). Could Alex be a know-it-all? Perhaps, but compared to being cruel, this seems like a much less questionable trait to make fun of or dislike. Or maybe they think she doesn’t have much of a personality?

Another example: Natalie Manning of Chicago Med fame. Like Pam, she started standing up for herself a bit more–and the online community hated it. I am not sure where these accusations of being selfish and whiny come from. Although she is definitely flawed (like all characters in the show, something I feel it excels at) these accusations seem to come out of left field. Natalie simply gets more hate for it because of her personality.

But what about characters we are inadvertently trying to root against? Joe Goldberg in “You” is such an iconic character because readers often forget that they’re supposed to be rooting against him, especially with the very flawed cast of characters. Such is the case with Beck, his girlfriend. She is flawed too. She cheated, among other things. However, she too gets an irrational amount of hate, sometimes for no reason other than “she’s bland.” Okay, she’s not overly quirky. But as an English major, I could see myself in her, or possibly as someone to be writing buddies with. I couldn’t help but like her overall and did not understand how she offended so many people that much, especially compared to some other characters. Is is possible we are turning our backs on “good” characters because we are determined to root for the enemy? If so, maybe we should ask ourselves questions about why we root for them—something that You has succeeded at, except for the Beck hate train.

I imagine that modern society has its impact, too—people want edgier over kind and gentle. But is it worth hating them over when they deviate from a certain type (as long as its in character), or because they–heaven forbid–actually stand up for themselves? I personally like characters like Pam because I can see myself in them. And it’s also concerning to me, slightly, that the good, girl-next-door characters are being hated on, maybe mindlessly as characters take turns in the limelight through Internet fanbases. Characters who aren’t overly quirky have a place in TV and real life, too, and are good for balance. These characters are simply just flawed, like everyone, and don’t deserve disrespect because they are “nice” or “good.”

Thoughts? Which characters here do you like or dislike?


Are Keyboard Warriors Needlessly Hurting Authors? (A Case Study of JK Rowling vs. The Fandom)


Update 6/16/20: With the addition of Rowling’s most recent comments, I am no longer claiming to support this author–previously, I needed a bit more evidence to determine what her views really were. However, my point still stands that the online rumor mill is doing no good by inventing reasons to get upset and using simple, malicious attacks. Rowling has many good points, and I believe that she can come to know better. Educating ourselves and each other goes much farther than what spewing Nazi-support rumors and name calling will ever do.

Recently I came across a Pinterest thread discussing the Harry Potter series. The Pin in question was a Tumblr post, where the author made a snarky remark about JK Rowling making stuff up for attention after the books were published. This post isn’t unique. There are many online blog posts where authors are making fun of Rowling’s tendency to drop new facts about her beloved book characters. And it seems like they are just going after her because they are attacking her ideas on a social issue. But is there really a problem with Rowling’s ideals, or are people being quick to make assumptions? Maybe both, depending.

Internet discussions and rumor mills have allowed these debates to spiral out of control. Of course, it’s not just books. It’s also the same stuff that drives the (in my opinion, unwarranted) fear mongering about the coronovirus and false information seeping into debates of political candidates. But the harm from this false hysteria is the same: people start to believe things that aren’t true for the wrong reasons, and sometimes people on the other end are treated accordingly.

It started with one concern: that J.K .Rowling is transphobic. This is mostly old news now; her Tweets in support of certain users have gotten controversy, and it’s not unfounded.

Then the “J.K. hate” began to snowball, at least in this Pinterest discussion. Accusations were now being thrown that she was anti-semetic; a common place where these debates end up. Another user than said, “It was never about the readers. It was all about her money!” when, in fact, she is one of few people to lose her billionaire status by donating money to charity and even has her own foundation. Personally I have yet to see concrete evidence that Rowling is an evil villain promoting a political agenda. Yet, users keep acting like she is on the basis of these rumors. These attitudes can be seen when keyboard warriors use the alleged fact that she is transphobic as an excuse to attack Rowling for unrelated things, such as coming out with “ridiculous” behind-the-scenes facts. I have seen people insult her for everything, from being bad at math (??) to inconsistent dates.

Following that progression, we can see how needless rumors begin. We have gone from “Rowling is (perhaps) misunderstood about being transgender” to “Rowling is a bad, lazy writer” to “Rowling has an agenda, only cares about money, and her work belongs to us now.” Readers later started criticizing Rowling for being lazy in that she answered’ readers questions after she published the books, claiming that she couldn’t fix the plot holes.. In years past, it has been my experience that these bonus “reveals” were things to look forward to. For me, they kept the world alive. It is strange that after all the excitement of having bonus material to consider, people are now starting to attack Rowling for coming out with them. While it’s certainly possible that she is trying to go for Diversity Points (another unproven rumor brought on by fandom assumptions) by saying that Anthony Goldstein is Jewish, I am also inclined to believe that these are just fun facts, just like it’s a fun fact that Ginny became a professional Quidditch player, or that Luna married Newt’s grandson. Furthermore, as I wrote last year, I think complaining about a lack of diversity in this series is a waste of time.

It’s worth noting that a BuzzFeed article pointed out the Goldstein tidbit a while back. However, this headline, something along the lines of, “J.K. Rowling Has Announced There Is At Least One Jewish Person at Hogwarts,” intentionally paints Rowling in a bad light so readers will get upset and click it. Sometimes it’s the sources that spur the drama, and we should keep that in mind. (Just ask the Daily Prophet staff during the end of the Fudge era, or Luna Lovegood.)

Random attacks also harm the fandom. Harry Potter is a community, with video games and fanfiction and thoughtful discussion. When people spend most of their time attacking the author (sometimes the Potter fandom refers to this as “divorcing” Rowling), this sense of community is lost. And, ultimately, we do have to respect the writer’s work. This means that we can’t claim ownership of the characters, as one Tumblr post in particular tried to do. Readers need not feel bad about continuing to read the books—after all, we still read books by Hitler and far more questionable people as literature. But if you’re still going to read the books and participate in the community, it seems in poor taste to constantly use that time to attack the author. I know it’s been less fun for me to be a a part of, just because of all the vile hate-spewing. However, I also know (er, knew?) at least 2 people who are transgender and if there are allegations against Rowling, they too should be taken seriously—as long as they’re not just rumors spurned by readers. The problem is, who knows what to believe anymore?

When it comes to author (or any) controversy, readers would do well to look at the evidence and decide for themselves what is right and wrong. Otherwise, rumors begin to snowball and the online hivemind decides to “take over.” Sometimes I wonder in an era of cancel culture whether we are too quick to make mountains out of molehills. Users who are into social justice might even use the issue at hand as a starting point for discussion rather than to create more harassment that they claim they are against. It’s good to stand up for equal rights, but let’s do it in a productive way while making sure that we are getting sources about things an author says or does from reliable places instead of from reactive online users.

What do you think? Are you a Potterhead? Has the experience changed for you at all?


Should Writers be Unique or Write to Sell?

This morning on bookstagram, a fellow bookstagrammer posted about their weekend read. It was a story about a teenage girl who is sick and so prevents many people from getting near her. But, surprise surprise, she enters a relationship with a boy and has to find a way to let people in. The book’s title? “Sick Kids in Love.” It doesn’t even try to be creative. That’s like a vampire novel calling itself The Sparkly Vampire Meets the Awkward Loner. (Not that it’s fair for me to criticize a book without reading it, but by the summary alone, which I often use to decide whether I want to read something, I’d be letting this one go.)

It was the same thing with vampires back when I was younger. Our local library’s YA section was so saturated with vampire books–I’d say that was 50% of the book selection– that I got sick of going to the library and went to Barnes and Noble a lot more. (Of course that could just be a slight on my local library, but still.) I think it goes without saying that not every teenager wants to read the same thing. Perhaps that library was trying to make reading “cool” by being super-trendy. But there was nothing for me there. I personally don’t want to read the same story over and over again, nor do I want to pay money to do so. Yes, I do like psychological thrillers featuring obsessive love, but the books still need to do something different to keep my interest. I’m even tiring of the Netflix versions of these because the same cliches keep popping up. What I do appreciate is when a thriller tries something new.

So what can writers do if they do have legitimate interest in writing something that’s seen a lot? Do something new, even if slightly. I took a copywriting course recently, and one technique that advertisers can do to enhance their brand’s message is finding a unique selling point. Meaning, if you want to write another book about sick kids, for example, add something that hasn’t been done yet. Some ideas might include characters being cousins who hate each other, having it be a thriller where the guy isn’t who he seems and may have something more sinister going on, adding a racial/cultural conflict, etc.

Is their risk in doing something new? Sure. But you’d be hard pressed to find me, or many readers, complaining about actually doing something different. In my reviews, even if I don’t like the way something is done, I will almost always applaud seeing something different. Every time I see a character have a good relationship with their father, I want to jump up and down, because it’s so weirdly rare these days. Who knows? Writers may start the next popular trend.

Ultimately, writers should write what makes them happy. If they enjoy writing what they create, chances are it will be a good story. And if something is popular, there will probably be an audience for it. But I think, too, that creativity is important, and that writers shouldn’t hesitate to break new ground. People will eventually get tired of hearing the same narrative over and over. If they’re ultimately doing it for the money, they may do better, and be happier, finding a different career path, as it’s so hard to make a career from it to begin with.


Stories of My Childhood: Amelia’s Notebook

In this series, I explore books that have had a special meaning to me as a kid. It can be any book that tells a story that isn’t a board book, counting/alphabet book, and that is one I remember well. Of course, it should ideally be good too.

What is the book about?

The first book begins when Amelia is getting ready to move to a new house in a new state with her older sister and her mom in fourth grade. She doesn’t want to leave her best friend, Nadia, but there are other fun adventures that wait at her new place. In her notebook, she writes and draws about her time there and new friends. And Amelia isn’t just a writer–she’s an artist and scientist curious about the world.

There are many other books in the series, too. In the sequel, she struggles with a school fire. In another, she corresponds with Nadia and they talk about their dads. When Amelia enters middle school, the books become hardcovers and take on a more linear storyline and deal with subjects such as a mean teacher, gossip, and overnight field trips. Other books are purely entertainment, such as a notebook with boredom busters and another devoted to fortune-telling games.

My favorites had to be Madam Amelia Tells All, Amelia’s Easy-as-Pie Drawing Guide (which actually taught me of all people how to draw some things well!), Amelia’s 6th Grade Notebook, and Amelia’s Family Ties.

How did I discover it?

I was subscribed to American Girl magazine, which used to have a two-page Amelia spread–a mini-story– in every issue. Most of these stories weren’t published elsewhere, but once the feature was retired a book was published that included some of the best stories from the magazine. I bought it, and one thing led to another, and soon I was purchasing other books in the series. It soon became a favorite. Well before that, I think, I bought her Boredom Survival Guide from a school book order.

What I like about the books

They were different! Although they were also good for middle schoolers, it wasn’t a chapter book format–just Amelia’s entries and drawings that combined to form an overall story. They even looked like notebooks with marble covers and lined pages. Amelia was a great artist, too, and her drawings and side notes lined the margins. When she went to Chicago, for example, there was a cow exhibit throughout the city at the time, so she made up little themed cows to draw throughout the notebook.

Just look at these pages. How cool are they? I think these predated Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dear Dumb Diary, and most other notebook-style stories. I’m not sure if it predated Abby Hayes or not, but either way, this notebook series was arguably the original.

How did the books inspire me?

I tried once or twice to make a notebook of my own, but didn’t get very far. Journaling has always been challenging to keep up with! Fortunately, there was an official notebook you could fill in from the author of the series, and I loved working on that. Of course, I didn’t complete that either.

My thoughts on the books today

I still enjoy them. Looking back, these are very standard issues, but the format is so unique that it never feels like the author is trying to beat you over the head. I don’t know if Marissa Moss is still writing them, but supposedly she also has 7th and 8th grade notebooks. One of them I think involves Amelia wanting to ask a boy to the dance, but it’s my personal prediction that Amelia will eventually come out as bisexual if the books go that far.


Eleven Fun Garfield Facts

All comics courtesy of

There shalt be no comments complaining, “but it’s only a comic, you’re looking into it too much!!!” This is just for fun.

Jon wasn’t always the dweeb we know him to be.

His clothing hasn’t changed much, but in the early days, he was your normal bachelor. He smoked a pipe and it was hinted that he liked print pornography. Perhaps this normality was because he lived with a roommate who influenced him. Lyman stopped appearing in the strip sometime in the 80s. Soon after that, Jon dumbed down considerably once the strip needed to find other sources of humor. See my post on Jon’s possible history here.

Garfield used to see a male vet.

He didn’t make a ton of appearances, but based on some comics, we can see that Garfield saw a different person. Dr. Liz didn’t appear until later. She rejects Jon in her first storyline.

Jon finally found love in 2006.

He got together with Liz Wilson and they’ve been together ever since. There are still no signs of a marriage. Maybe Liz still has lingering doubts? (The storyline, in June 2006, shows Jon going on a date with longtime interest Ellen and swapping dates with Liz while there.)

At the time of this writing, Jon is almost 70.

He was twenty-nine sometime in the late 70s. That would make him about 69 today. He’s looking good!

Despite Garfield aging along with the comics, he is still a full-sized fat cat in his first appearance.

We never see him grow up with his parents in the pasta restaurant where he was born. His birthday is considered to be the day he was born. So did he just appear from thin air? Then again, Jon doesn’t seem to age either. Maybe they live in an alternate universe.

Jon going golfing, tropical vacations, and Halloween storylines were popular ideas all but nonexistent now.

Newer popular storylines involve Garfield challenging the dog next door, Garfield befriending mice, and Garfield at Christmas. There was a great existential storyline in the 80s involving Garfield waking up in his abandoned house. Unfortunately, weeklong tales of how Garfield squishes spiders are still common. Irma also barely shows up anymore, if at all.

Jon’s dated a plethora of interesting women despite being unlucky in love.

Garfield Comic Strip for May 27, 1979
Bye, Felicia.

Among them: Big Bertha, a woman named Euphemia, a woman raised by wolves, and more. Jon also dated some normal women near the beginning and even kicked one out of the house when it was revealed she didn’t like cats. He’s had better dating luck than I have.

Garfield has a non-canon Thanksgiving special.

Image result for garfield thanksgiving

In it, Jon must prepare a Thanksgiving dinner in less than a day when Liz actually accepts his invitation to dinner. Garfield, meanwhile, struggles with being on a diet. It takes inspiration and dialogue from the comics but creates an original story. He also has Halloween and Christmas specials.

Jon is not unemployed.

He is a cartoonist. In early days, we can see him working at a board.

There is a comic where Liz congratulates Jon, implying that he just drunk a mug of dog semen. When people took the joke too seriously, Jim Davis came forward and said that wasn’t the case.

In reality, the mug probably contained pet medication or coffee for Liz. However, it remains infamous and a popular meme among the fanbase.

Nermal belongs to Jon’s parents.

Image result for nermal
Garfield Wikia

So if his parents haven’t been off the farm since ’53, how does Nermal get to Jon’s place? And why don’t we see Nermal at the farm? So many questions.


Stories of My Childhood: Amazing Days of Abby Hayes

In this series, I explore books that have had a special meaning to me as a kid. It can be any book that tells a story that isn’t a board book, counting/alphabet book, and that is one I remember well. Of course, it should ideally be good too.

What are the books about?

This series features a ten-year-old girl named Abby Hayes. She loves writing and chapters are interspersed with detailed journal entries. She is a typical fifth grader in that she likes hanging out with her best friends, and struggles to stand out among her genius brother, athletic sister Eva and accomplished debator Isabelle. The first novel shows her going out for the soccer team and aiming to be a better player. Of course, she finds that her real talent is in writing and develops that during the series.

How did I discover them?

Nothing interesting to say here; I think my mom bought a few for me.

What I loved about the books

Abby liked to write, just like I did. I loved how the chapters were interspersed with her well-written diary entries and how she “reported” on things that were happening. She had a Hayes Book of World Records and wrote down quotes word-for-word. I also loved the characters. Mazer’s characterization was effortless and even minor classmates seemed well rounded…for the most part.

I’ve talked before how sometimes stand-alone children’s books in school, at least for me, became mundane. Many took place in rural areas, featured wacky relatives, traveling to Europe, took place in the first half of the century, fantasy worlds with Chosen Ones often in Middle East-ish settings, etc. I liked book series because they often deviated from this and discussed modern issues. Moving, wanting independence, siblings, schoolwork, and family are all discussed, and they’re not necessarily the same-old-same-old narratives. Abby herself is a different character than the MC we see so often. She has a bunch of friends rather than just one best friend. She’s not an outcast. She isn’t lower middle class; in fact, her family has considerable money by the time she’s in middle school. We see her utilize her talents instead of having her be a generic well-rounded character (even if she doesn’t always recognize that she has these talents).

Favorite memory involving the books

I can recall a time many years ago when I would go to an extended care program after doing summer camp at my school. I spent most of my time there browsing Scholastic’s Harry Potter website, but I also found a different minisite that way. It was called CJ’s Book Club, and at the time of discovery, “CJ” and her “friends” were reading book 10 of the series where Abby goes to visit her grandmother. I thought that was kind of cool, but I didn’t return to the website too many more times after the first few months.

How the books inspired me

I had once looked at starting a book series where the elementary-aged main character is an aspiring writer, but it hasn’t come to fruition yet. And of course, I feel like I owe it to every book I’ve read where characters keep journals for wanting to keep one of my own. Abby’s entries add a lot of insightful thoughts to the plotlines.

My thoughts on the books today

I love this series, but a few glaring issues stand out to me today.

  1. The big elephant in the room here is how Abby is in fifth grade twice, or three times even. As much as I loved the books, reading them in order there are MASSIVE continuity errors. We see Abby go on summer vacation twice and meet Hannah during the second summer, and then they go into fifth grade again and become best friends now that her friend Jessica has moved away. This needed some extra attention because it is really confusing. Readers can’t even chalk it up to having Abby be in fourth grade for the first few books, moving on to fifth after book 5 along with Ms. Kantor, because she spends an entire school year in fifth grade with Hannah and then one without Jessica–thank you, holiday novel for making this clear– so presenting an alternative doesn’t work. She also does not become friends with Bethany until their second go-round in fifth grade after they bond during the first summer, but you can’t just ignore everything that happened between them leading up to it either. It’s a mess.
  2. Brianna, the Mary Sue. She’s too perfect–models, speaks French, has money, is a great soccer player, is a great actress lauded among her community, and rarely gets her just desserts. Characters like that make my skin crawl.
  3. It saddens me that one of the last books is about Abby being jealous of an iPhone. Yay, a book about kids playing on their phones?

I really do like these novels, but the flaws stick out looking back. A TV series would be great, though.


In Defense of Dumbledore

Warning: there are spoilers.

It’s come to my attention over the past year or two that Potter fans online aren’t too happy with Albus Dumbledore.

They aren’t happy that he sent Harry to the Dursleys. They aren’t happy that he made mistakes in his past. But like most characters in the series, they all have light and dark inside of them. What matters, like Sirius said, is the part they choose to act on.

I, for one, don’t think Dumbledore is a bad character. Rowling’s characters often have shades of good and bad, but Dumbledore changed his life around to what I think is the better. Sure, he originally sided with a power-hungry wizard, but that was partially because he didn’t want to stand up against it and jeopardize their friendship. Not that I’m advocating for that, but the fact that he was able to turn against those ideals says a lot more than people who are power-hungry from the beginning and never learn. Voldemort was not one of them.

What about his relationship with Harry? Snape accuses him of raising Harry like a pig for slaughter, and sometimes, he doesn’t always explain things to Harry straight out. But in the magical world of prophecies that must come true–in this case, neither can live while the other survives–there isn’t really a lot that Dumbledore could have done other than prepare him for what is to come. That is a hard fact of wizarding life. It’s not the only hard truth either. One can wipe another’s memory, control another, or torture with one flick of a wand. These flaws make the wizarding world much more real. Such is true of prophecies. Overall, though, I have a hard time believing that Dumbledore doesn’t care about Harry. Does he make mistakes? Would it have been better to be honest from the beginning? Possibly. However, Dumbledore wanted him to have a childhood, so his intentions weren’t bad ones.

He did, however, do a good job of training up Harry for battle and unlocking the keys to Voldemort’s past. He couldn’t help his allegedly untimely death, so even though Harry was on his own by that point he had some good preparation and friends to help him out. (When he left out the Mirror of Erised, and discovered him in the dungeons at the end of the book, he certainly wasn’t disappointed in Harry. He knew where his life was going and wanted to give him a chance to take on Voldemort.) This isn’t so terrible, since Harry has proven himself to have solved complex mysteries with the help of Ron and Hermione. Dumbledore may not have been able to straight out explain the things he left out for them in the will, seeing that if it fell into the wrong hands, someone else may be inspired to try and take on Voldemort themselves (or worse), whilst the trio were more than capable of coming to their own conclusions.

And then there’s the matter of the Dursleys. No doubt that it’s an abusive environment. Still, Dumbledore did sort of take steps to protect Harry while he lived there. The Howler he sent to Petunia in Book Five was a good example of this; Petunia, in turn, listened and kept Harry in the house. Petunia would never have allowed anything truly terrible to happen; not that her behavior shows this, but it wasn’t obvious to Harry at the time. Harry was obviously fed and cared for to some degree as a child. He went to school. He didn’t sit in a cupboard for his entire life. Obviously, Petunia was willing to work with Dumbledore somewhat, so his intentions weren’t awful. Another detail that I’ve just picked up on, too, was the reminder of Mrs. Figg living down the street. Although the was a Squib, she was able to keep an eye on him. Of course, was this life at the Dursleys perfect? Definitely not. The important part was that he had a place to call home. Upon leaving his first year at Hogwarts, he also seemed more capable of leaving himself to his own devices. Again, not a perfect home life, but Dumbledore’s plan was better than leaving Harry with no protection at all.

With that, then, let’s go to another argument I often see against Dumbledore: why didn’t Dumbledore give Sirius a second chance and let him sit in Azkaban? Because anyone could have betrayed their friends. He probably thought that Sirius did do it. Not many would have guessed that Pettigrew would have betrayed his friends, yet that is exactly what he did. Dumbledore is not at fault for any of this. If we are going to attack Dumbledore for not giving Sirius a second chance, we also have to attack him for not seeing what Pettigrew did, and for not giving Pettigrew that second chance, which doesn’t make sense.

Now of course there is his past. A love of power, a terrible friend, and the death of his sister. Yes, Dumbledore probably wasn’t that great of a guy back in the day. However, he’s clearly changed. And I think that that change is important. After all…”it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” That is why Dumbledore is a strong character. He learned from past mistakes to be a great mentor to Harry and a legendary headmaster of Hogwarts. Being a wise old wizard of his type creates an illusion of perfect wisdom, which is why readers may see flaws and be fast to point out that as soon as he’s flawed, he’s a bad character. I personally respect him, and he is one of my favorite wise old wizards of all time.


Stories of My Childhood: Just Grandma and Me

In this series, I explore books that have had a special meaning to me as a kid. It can be any book that tells a story that isn’t a board book, counting/alphabet book, and that is one I remember well. Of course, it should ideally be good too. This month’s choice is a special pick for Grandparents’ Day.

What is the book about?

This is a simple little story about Little Critter and his grandmother. Together, they have many adventures at the beach. Narrated by Little Critter, it tells all about their day from morning until he falls asleep on the bus ride home.

How did I discover it?

It was part of Grandma’s book basket–more on that below. It was a staple whenever I came for a visit, usually on my own. It did, after all, feature a grandmother and one grandchild.

What do I like about the book?

It’s a simple story about grandparent appreciation. I don’t remember most of the things that Little Critter actually does, but there are events that you’d often see at a typical beach day…but the focus is on the grandmother. It’s a different approach to family stories. I remember there being some nice illustrations, too. One particular two-page drawing featured lots of animals and little critters having fun at the beach, and I remember being intrigued by a plane carrying a “sign” behind it that said “Work for Peace.” This may have been because I was used to seeing so many “planes with signs” at the Jersey shore as a kid.

Favorite memory involving the books

Grandma used to have a book basket–pretty much an Easter basket with books inside. Titles included things like “Peanut Butter and Jelly,” “If You Give a Pig a Pancake,” “Nina Nina Star Ballerina,” “The Berenstain Bears’ Week at Grandma’s,” and the books about the Westie terrier whose name I can’t recall. But by far the most fun to read was Just Grandma and Me. Sometimes Grandma would even read it from her perspective instead of from Little Critter’s. It was especially funny at the end, where Little Critter insisted his grandmother fell asleep on the bus ride home even though it was he who did so.

Not that I don’t give the Berenstain Bears book any credit; that too was a good grandparent book. It showed Brother and Sister Bear going to their grandparents’ home for a week while their parents took a second honeymoon. I never understood why they were disappointed about it; going to Grandma and Grandpa’s was fun! But they learned to have fun too, through baking and ship building and square dancing. That was almost my choice for this month’s Childhood Stories post. Both are great.

Digging deeper into the fandom

Little Critter had “grown up” books too. In second grade, I was delighted to discover a series for young elementary school students starring him, now called LC. He and his friends had many adventures, and while I don’t remember what they were, I do know that I loved checking them out for silent reading time. They’re very hard to find now it seems. I may have outgrown Just Grandma and Me, but it was fun to continue the series later on.

My thoughts on the book now

Just Grandma and Me probably isn’t as popular as it used to be, but it does bring back memories. I’m sad I don’t remember too much about it, but it is what it is. If I can remember the happy times it brought, it must be a good story.

Happy Grandparents’ Day to all!


6 More Things I’m Tired of Seeing in Modern Stories

To see the first six things, click here.

The Bar Scene

Going to bars is more exciting in person then it is to read about. On the page, it can be pretty dull. You have your MC, often female in my experience, meeting a guy and having a conversation over beer. It just doesn’t translate all that well and usually serves as a plot device.

The Random French-speaking U.S. Citizen

This is an oddly specific trope that has popped up in at least 4 books I read this past year. It consists of a side character (sometimes MCs do it as well though) who mostly speaks English, but occasionally drops French phrases for reasons often unknown. Oh, they’re not usually French or anything, they just do it…because…uniqueness? A recent book I read did call themselves out on it, but that still doesn’t mean it was necessary. In another case, I think it was because the author took French and was looking for an excuse to use it. This is frustrating when the French helps to move the story along and I have no idea what they’re saying! Unless France or its culture is important to the US-based novel, I’m tired of reaching for a French-English dictionary just to understand the story. (Obviously, it was fine in Jenny Colgan’s The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris.) If authors want to make quirky characters, I’d like to see them stick to using interesting traits, not having them spew French phrases now and then. (And it’s always French, never random Spanish or Japanese, furthering my theory that the author is trying to jump on a romantic, stylish trend.) Characters should have reasons for suddenly sliding into other languages.

Sexual scenes

This is a matter of opinion, but I would much rather have a story than read about what characters do in the bedroom, sometimes over and over again. When I read a book, I want excitement and interest. This usually takes the form of having the characters go out on dates, having adventures, and getting to know each other. I don’t feel the need to go any more personal than that…and it’s just not very interesting to me, especially when they’re done over and over.

The Open-Ended Ending

Possibly one of the biggest issues plaguing my book choices, sometimes authors feel like they want readers to imagine their own ending. But I personally buy books because I want the author to spin me a story, and for me that means coming up with an original ending that’s thought-provoking and doesn’t leave me hanging. I don’t want to decide for myself. And yes, stories should have endings.

Gay carciatures

Come on, people. It’s 2019. Of all the gay characters I’ve met this past year, there were TWO (in the same book) that weren’t flamboyant, fashion loving, stylish, or resorted to terms like “sweetie” and “darling.” Let’s start making gay people sound and talk like actual people. The occasional semi-stereotype is probably fine for diverse reasons, but even so, characters should have some sort of uniqueness to them.

Drawn-out drinking scenes

I sometimes wonder whether characters in the adult fiction world have hobbies other than drinking. It’s rare these days where I read a book without hearing someone wax poetic about their favorite wines or beer or who knows what. Maybe this is just me again (I find drinking overrated), but these are often the scenes I find most dull in a novel. I feel the characters are putting on airs, and it just seems so superficial. Characters are allowed to have hobbies and activities other than drinking. Additionally, scenes where characters socialize at bars are rarely exciting in themselves (see above).


Elite Eight: Fictional Teachers

As back-to-school season is upon us, sometimes it’s hard to think about going back and leaving summer behind, especially not always knowing what you’re getting into. But one thing that can truly make the difference between a good year and a bad one are the teachers. So today I’ll be talking about what teachers I love…in books! Most of these teachers will be from kids and YA books, since after all, kids are the ones in school–and I find that most of the teachers in adult novels I’ve read haven’t been very good so far!

Do you love any of the teachers I mention? Did I miss any other good ones? Let me know in the comments.

Mrs., Junie B. Jones

While everyone else is worrying about what the note in Pam’s teapot said or what Penny’s last name was in the Big Bang Theory, I’m over here wondering about what Mrs.’ last name was. (Seriously, what was it?) Not always patient with rambunctious Junie B, Mrs. was nevertheless a great teacher. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Junie B; in fact, Mrs. was often supportive, sticking up for her when she brought in a fish stick for Pet Day and celebrating with her when she got the biggest Valentine in the class. She also isn’t afraid of a little wrongdoing, like testing grapes in the grocery store. It was then that we learned that teachers are real people (who don’t live at school). And when Junie B. moved on to first grade, I found myself missing Mrs. in the same way I always missed my old teacher on the first day of a new year.

Professor Lupin; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

There are many teachers to choose from here-McGonagall, Hagrid, and are other contenders, but Professor Remus Lupin wins out. He’s a great, supportive teacher whose class you actually look forward to during the week because you get to do super fun things in that class period, like fight actual magical creatures. He doesn’t let other teachers harass his students (coughSNAPEcough), but instead lets the unassuming, shy students be recognized. He’s also not afraid to get to know his students, though having a connection to Harry likely helped with that.

Mr. Gianini; The Princess Diaries

Normally your algebra teacher coming to live at your house would be a nightmare, especially for Mia and I (words people). But after a while, having Frank Gianini as her stepfather wasn’t so bad. Sure, it came with some downsides–extra practice at home, anyone? But hey, it was all in the name of helping Mia try to get good grades. Soon, he became a cool drum-playing member of the family, though it probably helped matters when Mia was no longer taking high school algebra too.

Mrs. Claire Shawcourt; The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris

At first glance, Claire Shawcourt may seem like your average French teacher. Anna takes her class and doesn’t take much away from it…or does she? When the two reunite, Claire suggests that Anna go to France, and helps her brush up on her French skills even as adults. It’s revealed that Claire has an ulterior motive to have Anna help reunite her with a long-lost love, but the adventures they have together are those of two friends. Who says you can’t be friends with your teacher? Mrs. Shawcourt proves that you really can use high school skills later in life.

Bill; Perks of Being a Wallflower

Sometimes it’s hard to share your thoughts in front of the whole class. Charlie knows, but so does his advanced English teacher, Bill. Seeing potential and passion in one of his shy students, the two often talk about books that he assigns Charlie in private. He automatically gives Charlie As, because he likes him, but gives him the real grades in private. Seems sketchy? Not really, considering that Charlie is getting a good education. And it’s nice that the two can become genuine friends. Bill gives lots of advice to Charlie about putting himself out there, and it seems to pay off.

Ms. Bunder; Amazing Days of Abby Hayes

Not even an official teacher, Ms. Bunder still proves that learning should be fun. A friend of Abby’s real fifth grade teacher, Ms. Kantor, she came in once a week to share creative writing exercises. How cool is that? She encouraged Abby, and the rest of the class, to be creative in their work. She often let the students decide writing topics. And when Abby was less than thrilled about being the class advice columnist, Ms. Bunder gave her advice to reach her full potential. The two had such a special bond that Ms. Bunder gave Abby her business card at graduation. We’d all love to have a class, and teacher, like Ms. Bunder, even if you don’t love creative writing. As for me, the whole thing would be a dream come true.

Miss Winston; Kirsten Learns A Lesson (American Girl)

It must be terrifying to move to a new country and have to speak the native language only at school. For Kirsten, it was. And Miss Winston expected not just English only, but for her to recite a poem in English. Although Miss Winston seemed strict, she was able to assist Kirsten in learning the poem and even helped her choose one that reminded her of home in Sweden. She’s what we need in teachers: she expects hard work, but is willing to help you through it all.

Mr. Ratburn; Arthur

Because Arthur originated as picture books and had a chapter book series, I’m including Mr. Ratburn here too. A feared teacher by Arthur’s new third grade class, he does have a reputation for giving a considerable amount of homework. In some episodes, we see Arthur look longingly at Miss Sweetwater’s class, who are often singing songs and telling jokes. But when it comes down to it, Mr. Ratburn is truly a great teacher. He helps his students study for tests and spelling bees and genuinely wants them to succeed. He takes them on actually fun field trips and is a great puppeteer too. And if you want to find an excuse to have a class party, Mr. Ratburn is almost always game (he LOVES cake). If you want to see some examples, just watch some Arthur (it’s actually a great show and not just for nostalgia purposes). I see many more instances of Mr. Ratburn’s good side than his bad one. And we all know this: Miss Sweetwater’s class will fail fourth grade, but Mr. Ratburn’s class will be prepared for anything.

Who is your favorite fictional teacher? Did I miss any?