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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.

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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).

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Should we criticize books for having triggers?

I recently published a review of a book on this blog, and then went to check out what other people were saying on Goodreads as I often do. I was shocked by the amount of reviewers who gave it a very low score and said they hated it because an animal was abused, or because there were instances of rape. I disagree with those sentiments, but at the same time, there is a time and place for criticizing the use of heavy topics, and it’s when they aren’t done well.

Life is a mixture of the good and the bad. There is war and crime and mistreatment of animals. So criticizing a book just for merely having child abuse or abusive relationships is ridiculous. Bad events do not equate to a bad book.

Now when do you criticize said heavy events? Maybe when it seems like the author is agreeing with, or romanticizing, what is happening. Most readers should, but aren’t always able, to separate author beliefs from what a character says or does and should keep that in mind.

Let’s take a look at my recent reviewed book, I Know Who You Are. (There are spoilers!) After a series of events, in the epilogue, the main character finds herself pregnant with her brother’s child. Disgusting? Yes. But a bad book because of it? No, because these things unfortunately happen and the story is still pretty interesting. What makes this instance critique-worthy is the author’s attitude towards it. The main character isn’t put off by this pregnancy; rather, she seems delighted that she finally has a child. (Um, EW.) That is why the ending made me run for the hills. It wasn’t because the MC was raped. It was because the MC seemed happy about it, because it finally gave her a child, and the author felt like this event resolved her character.

Looking at A Simple Favor, which I didn’t like, there is an instance of incest near the beginning. However, it adds absolutely nothing to the story and it’s just there to add–romance? Tension? A storyline to throw readers off the trail? This, I can see, would be distasteful to readers. This scene in particular does seem romanticized more than anything. I too complained about the use of it.

There’s one other excuse to complain too: when an issue is handled badly. A recent book by Jenny Colgan that I DNF’d killed off the gay characters. Many readers didn’t like this; evidently killing off the happy gay couples is a trope and overdone. This I understand to a point; the gays always being the ones to die does strike me as strange. There are other instances too, such as when a writer writes male characters as being overly touchy towards women and not having that issue addressed, instead acting like this behavior is totally normal. But often, an author writing about something like that does not mean they agree.

So instead of bashing a book because the author dares to include something less than sunshine and rainbows, think about what the author is trying to say about it. If it’s bad, maybe it’s because of the way the author is handling it. We shouldn’t shy away from books and be quick to write them off because there is a topic included that’s hard to swallow. Or perhaps you mostly prefer light and fluffy books. That’s fine too. But it’s not fair to the author to leave a 1-star review saying it’s bad because there’s animal cruelty inside when that isn’t your cup of tea.

The world has gotten a touch more sensitive, but writing off books as bad because something traumatic happens to the characters is just silly–as long as the above isn’t happening. Talking about these issues is important. In some cases, we read to learn more about these instances and look at an issue from a more personal standpoint. They may help readers to see that okay, maybe the rape victim isn’t to blame after all. Or, wow, I didn’t realize how saying that to a person of color is offensive. I’ll have to check myself. And not always does it mean that the author agrees with what is happening. If readers learn something new, why is it a bad book?

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When Do Endings Ruin Books?

Endings. You love them, or sometimes, you hate them. But why does the ending often have such a big impact on what we think of a story? Sometimes it goes so far as to ruin the book! In fact, some of the books I don’t like the most are disliked because of the ending. But why? Why are endings so important? And, when done wrong, why do they ruin books?

There are heavy spoilers for Tiny Pretty Things, The Storyteller, Book Thief, My Sister’s Keeper, and Not Your Daughter.

When there is no ending, thus giving us no closure.

Have you ever heard the joke where a reader is running out of pages and worried that there is not enough time to resolve anything? Sometimes, this is actually true. I picked up a YA ballet thriller a few years ago. Tiny Pretty Things featured the stories of three ballet dancers. Pranks ensue. Horrible stuff happens to the girls. We don’t find who did them, or why. In fact, there really isn’t an ending at all. The book just stops.

When you’re reading a thrilling book or a mystery, readers want to know who did it and why. For me, there is no excuse for not explaining these things. Readers want endings, k? We read books so we can learn what happens.

When it makes previous events meaningless.

In other words, “never have your main character wake up from a dream at the end.” When the ending makes the book irrelevant, why should we care? Why did we just spend all that time reading about what was going to happen if the motivations aren’t at stake, or if nothing comes of all those pages? Here are some examples (there are spoilers, obviously):

My Sister’s Keeper: Anna dies before anything can come of the court case.
The Book Thief: A bomb kills almost everyone except the protagonist. Yep. (I will give this a slight pass because it takes place during a major war, but this shouldn’t happen anywhere else.)

You might think, well, this is like real life. Sometimes acts of God happen. Well, yes. But in books, I feel like things are a little more orchestrated than they usually are in real life. That means we should usually get an ending that is relevant.

When the plot twist exists for shock value, sacrificing sense.

I return to The Storyteller, which had one of the most bizarre plot twists I’ve ever seen. Spoiler: Our MC encounters an older man named Josef who used to be a Nazi and committed crimes against her grandmother. It turns out that the MC decides to kill him, but it was never Josef. It was his brother pretending to be Josef the whole time. What was the reason for THAT? To have readers gasp and go, “oh no, the moral character killed the wrong person?” But that wasn’t the point of the book. The point was to have a debate on justice and what is right; whether a citizen whose grandmother was tortured had the right to kill a former Nazi who asked for it. It was never a crime thriller. Not to mention that this also meant that the brother had pretended to be Josef for the whole book, an odd behavior that was never explained.

When a plot twist is there just for shock value, it’s obvious and takes away from the meaning of the book. And it’s just poor writing in my opinion. This plot twist (among other flaws) made this 5-star book into a not-quite-3 star book for me. That’s pretty bad.

When the book changes course (i.e. it starts as one book and ends as another).

YA, I’m looking at you. I haven’t read it regularly for years now, but near the end of my time with the genre, I noticed it was the same deal over and over again: character with interesting plot premise meets a love interest and the author decides to spend more time on yet another boring love triangle, feeling that readers don’t care about the interesting plot anymore. If the author suddenly decides the original plot isn’t important, I’ll probably lose interest too. Stories should stay focused. If I pick up a book marketed for it’s thrilling spy mission, the second half shouldn’t be focused mostly on a romance.

Sigh. Speaking of which…

Now I’m going to return to Storyteller yet again. This started out as a really captivating book where a real mission was going on. But when Sage, our MC, meets Leo the prosecutor right away, you know what’s going to happen. Yep. What starts out as a captivating debate on forgiveness and justice turns into a sappy love fest, and that made me angry.

When a wild journey leads to nothing.

Endings can be hard to invent, especially in the thriller genre if the author isn’t familiar with how those types of events work. Rea Frey’s Not Her Daughter is a wild booklong chase of a well-meaning woman trying to save a young girl from a life of abuse, but does so by kidnapping her. It ends when the MC calls up her real mother on the phone and asks if she can just keep her daughter. The real mother, fed up with life and Emma, merely says yes.

Not only is this a really unsatisfying way of ending the book, but there are legal issues that make the events of the epilogue not work. Emma would need paperwork to start school, wouldn’t she? A birth certificate? Will she never be able to get medical attention again if she has no paperwork? And why are they still on the run if her mother gave her up? But then again isn’t it still a kidnapping because they never formally went through with adoption? It can be obvious when an author is putting half-effort into an ending because they don’t want to deal with legal consequences.

Maybe it’s not that endings can always full-out ruin books, but that they can make us feel cheated. Readers want to be satisfied, and for me that means wrapping everything up like so.

What endings are you unsatisfied with?

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Should Christians Read Thrillers?

I recently came across a blog post where the blogger wondered if some certain Christian books could qualify as Christian. The books had some edgy themes that the faith doesn’t really encourage.

I used to think the same way. I avoided all these types of books, thinking they wouldn’t be very clean entertainment. But are they as bad as they sound? With recurring themes such as cheating, killing one another, and keeping secrets and lies, it doesn’t sound that way.

I find that most people read thrillers to be surprised. They like the heart-pounding suspense or solving a mystery. To sum up, we read these books for the excitement, or an escape.

First off, the main characters don’t always condone the behavior. Granted, not all characters are good people. But how many of us are perfect? We’ve all done things that we shouldn’t. I feel, too, that not only are the characters avoiding the people that display this behavior, but the readers aren’t supporting it either. They’re holding their breath, hoping that the good people win in the end. Heck, even the Bible has many moments it doesn’t encourage. Just because Judas betrays Jesus doesn’t mean the Bible condones cheating. Something being written about doesn’t mean the author agreeing with it. Actually, a lot of the thrillers I’ve read recently serve as warnings against the behaviors displayed. I’ll often finish the book feeling grateful for the life I currently have.

These type of books also often deal with larger issues. You warns against social media use. Obsession warns us how envy can tear lives apart. Never Let You Go deals with relationships. In fact, many of the ones I’ve read deal with abusive relationships in some degree. This is a very real issue, and in many thrillers, readers can go along and root for the characters to go on and have a better life. It really opens your eyes to the issues and what these women content with. So the overall message is not necessarily harmful. Nobody here is rooting for the bad guy. That was how I originally thought of these types of books.

Still, there are times when us Christians need to watch what we read and continue holding themselves to that moral standard. This may be up to you. Do Christian readers find themselves sympathizing with or rooting for the villain, like Joe Goldberg of You fame? Do they find themselves thinking about how exhilarating cheating on a marriage could be after reading about the exciting affair a side character committed? Maybe it’s time to take a break from these types of novels. For me, I personally draw the line at murder mysteries, particularly the light-hearted ones. Murder is a thing that really happens to people and I don’t like to make light of that. Whereas with thrillers, we sympathize with the main character (usually) and we hold our breaths, hoping that everything turns out for the best–and we’re stunned when it doesn’t. Ultimately, that’s what I want anyway.

Of course, not all characters are likable and that’s a different story. Take Pekkanen’s The Perfect Neighbors, where several have dirty secrets to hide. I didn’t feel like I wanted any of them to win. Same with A Simple Favor...nobody was likable and all deserved what was coming to them. I didn’t enjoy those books as much. As long as the reader can separate good from bad, and realize that maybe that the characters aren’t role models, there isn’t a problem. However, I feel like those books aren’t as enjoyable anyway. There need to be some well-intentioned characters for me to like a book, but that isn’t always obvious before I delve into one. It’s very easy to accidentally pick up a racy book when that content isn’t advertised, like I did with Kiss Quotient. It happens.

I think that if Christians are looking for a good, wholesome book where the character is perfect, they will never finish that quest. You might as well give up reading altogether. But that’s because we’re all flawed. And isn’t that why we read: to go on a journey with a flawed character and watch them change over time? We can hope, anyway. I think that if readers are reading for the sake of trying to figure out a mystery, or just to be excited, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, in some cases we should still be watchful of content and be alert to books that are making light of serious issues. That to me is where the problem occurs.

Christianity has become so much more about judging others’ behavior than it is about God and faith and I think that needs to change. It might start with books.

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Stories of My Childhood: Pig William

What is the book about?

This is a colorful, comic-style book that chronicles the adventures of a pig named William as he tries to get ready for a day at the school picnic. William is slow, takes his time in the morning, and likes to do things his own way, including making a big mess in the bathtub. These quirks drive his many housemates crazy! So when William misses the bus, it comes as no surprise to anyone. But when it starts to rain, he may just have won the day after all.

How did I discover it?

Pig William was a childhood library item that we’ve owned since the beginning of time. I’m pretty sure we read it over and over again when I was being toilet-trained, and it’s also partially how I learned to read. I loved it so much that I actually discovered a companion book, Pigs in Hiding, at the local library that quickly became a favorite library book. (Didn’t you always have those couple of books that you always had to check out time after time?)

What do I love about the book?

Quite simply, I love how colorful it is. There is lots of detail in the pages that often speak for themselves. The pigs do lots of silly things in the background, particularly William. It’s not a text-heavy book, nor is there truly narration. The book consists of comic-book style images with speech bubbles and readers watch the character interact with one another.

This is not a preachy kids’ book at all. It’s just perky and fun. Plus, cute pigs!

Digging deeper into the fandom

This author wrote my first series books. As I mentioned above, I found a book by the same author I loved just as much at the local library, Pigs in Hiding. This one had a house of pigs playing a massive game of hide and seek, and it’s only when the lead pig sets out food in the kitchen that everyone comes out and promptly loses the game. It’s my favorite scene in the book–pigs coming out EVERYWHERE, crowding the kitchen, and many saying the name of a food like “strawberries!” “donuts!” “cheese!” Etc. Like Pig William, quirky adventures line the pages. Readers also get the enjoyment of looking for hidden pigs.

Favorite memory involving the books

William recites a poem while feeding his fish, Pinky. It goes something like this:

Pinky, pinky, little and dinky, eating Big Fish Chow. Poor Pinky; too big for the sinky, must play in the bathtub now.

Mom and I composed a rhyme to this poem which I obviously can’t type out on paper. There was another weird one where we’d refer to ponytails as “Pig Williams.” As in… “hey Mom, can you give my hair a Pig William?” I have no idea where this trend came from, nor what it a ponytail and a fictional pig had in common. Yet we used that term for years.

How did the books inspire me?

I can’t say that they really inspired me any, though it might have inspired my love of escapist books.

My thoughts on the books now

Pig William is an underrated book and there are barely any copies available on Amazon. This is a shame. The series (there’s a third one about Christmas pigs I’ve never read) deserve more attention. It could even be considered a great introduction to graphic novels.

Check out other posts on books from my childhood:

Go Dog Go
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (+ series)
The Adventures of Captain Underpants (+ series)

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Is J.K. Rowling a Bad Author For Not Including Enough Representation?

I’ve been seeing this one all over Pinterest/Tumblr posts. J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world is so big, so vast, that many wonder: why aren’t LGBTQ issues discussed? Why aren’t there people of different sexualities? Unfortunately, these thoughts tend to turn into hateful remarks about Rowling herself.

So I’ll answer this question right now:

No.

Here’s why.

We already know Rowling is a tolerant person.

This may be irrelevant, but I don’t care. She speaks out against Trump, even though she’s not from the U.S. She donates a considerable part of her salary to charities. Her books speak volumes about the importance of coming together (more on that in a bit). We know that she’s a good person politically, so I’m not sure why the vile comments about her are necessary to begin with.

Some of these topics weren’t talked about much when the books were published.

Some gen-z Tumblr users may not even be aware that the first few books were fare of the 1990s. This wasn’t a hot-button issue yet. .Would it have been nice for the LGBTQ community to feel more respected in the 1950s, or the 90s, or whenever? Yes. But the truth was that it just wasn’t talked about very much, so you weren’t going to see it in a lot of literature. You can’t always blame people who grew up in a different time. Because it wasn’t a hot topic, you can’t really expect it to be written about. Rowling can’t just grab a Time-Turner and rewrite everything to accommodate. If these books were just being published now, though, it wouldn’t surprise me if there wasn’t a need for this argument.

It’s unfair to assume high expectations and politically correct things from authors whose novels were published in a different time. Take the time period with a grain of salt. Even so, there are enough messages about tolerance and equality here that I don’t think complaining about the lack of certain groups is worthwhile; the message in these books obviously spreads to all minorities. You just can’t expect to hold published authors to the standards of your day–that’s like criticizing a non-offensive 1950s novel for having the main character be a housewife. Maybe it wouldn’t fly today depending, but as a product of its time, it’s fine. And if the character is a good, well-drawn character, who cares if she’s not Wonder Woman even if it was written in 2010?

The books’ themes already heavily deal with topics of love and tolerance.

This is literally everywhere. Voldemort’s entire regime revolved around racism, or the idea that “pure bloods” (wizards from strictly magical families) were much better and “purer” than “half bloods” or “mudbloods,” wizards coming from families including non-magical people. In reality, this makes no difference just as white people are no better than those who are black. Additionally, there are characters of many races mentioned. As seen in early debates over the Cursed Child play, just because a character’s race isn’t stated doesn’t automatically make them white– Hermione could easily be black if you wanted her to be. There are many more instances of togetherness too…encouragements by side characters for the houses to get along; teamwork in the Triwizard Tournament; I could go on forever. Just because an author doesn’t discuss one particular facet of diversity, this doesn’t automatically make her a bigot and nowhere is this more obvious than in the Harry Potter series. I feel strongly about equal rights. So you wouldn’t call me a bigot for not writing about it in my last novella, would you?

Quite frankly, given that Rowling is presumably straight herself, the Tumblr community would probably be jumping on her for “getting things wrong” anyway. Either way, you’re looking at an argument.

Finally, it’s not like everyone is white and middle/upper class. Just a few diverse characters in the series for anyone who needs reminding: the Patil twins, Hermione (perhaps), Cho Chang, Dean Thomas (and arguably Seamus), Anthony Goldstein, and Angelina Johnson.

Not all authors delve into issues that aren’t their own.

Many writers tend to write their MCs from their own experiences. This can often be because they just don’t know what it’s like to be of a different race, country, or sexuality. I feel like many bloggers or authors would probably have a problem if Rowling tried to make one of her main characters gay and got details “wrong” (see previous paragraph). Also, considering the time period, doing research might have been trickier. On the other hand, equality in general is a longtime issue relevant not just to everyone in the real world, but in the books as well.

There wasn’t enough time to delve into romance issues to begin with–which is fine, because that’s not what the books are about.

Even with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, romance is barely touched on. (Keep in mind that most of what we see of the Harry/Ginny relationship are aspects expanded on by the fandom. There’s really barely anything between them in the novels.) And then there’s other characters. I really don’t want to be seeing Dean Thomas’ love affair with a Slytherin seventh-year male when I could be reading about the fight to defeat Voldemort. Similarly, I’ve also heard complaints about not enough Jewish wizards. Schoolmate Anthony Goldstein is indeed Jewish, but it would be distracting and irrelevant if Rowling focused too much time on a minor character’s religion (or even Harry’s, as it’s not relevant to the book at all). Some Tumblr folk might say that this could be as easy as dropping a detail, like two boys kissing in a corridor, but that can be distracting if you hear about it all the time. As a book blogger, I would probably call an author out on this type of thing for constantly distracting us with pointing out the sexuality or background of random characters. Doing so feels forced. A recent novel I read did a bit of this and rather than necessarily being diverse, it was kind of a distraction. You can’t cover every issue in books this size. However, what they do cover about acceptance, they cover well.

Still, we wonder: are gay characters ever going to become the majority? Maybe not, because it’s unrealistic…most of the world’s community identifies as straight. However, it’s also not realistic to not include people of other orientations. We’re a big world, and we should strive to get to know each other and showcase each other a bit more. I personally would like to see more books around LGBTQ characters where the focus isn’t their sexual orientation. But there are many more books for that.

Mostly I’d like to add that the vile, insulting, hateful comments towards a clearly well-meaning author that I’m seeing online completely erase the meaning of what the angry blogger is trying to say about tolerance. Authors’ failure to address a certain issue in their work doesn’t mean they are evil villains perpetuating privilege. Common sense 101: not everyone can talk about every issue in every book. If bloggers are writing spiteful things about well-meaning authors, the issue lies with the blogger, not the book. So-called social justice warriors would do well to make sure they are not accidentally practicing what they are protesting. As Dumbledore put it, accidental rudeness still occurs alarmingly often. I hope that we don’t give up on these great, important stories because a few internet bloggers decided that there weren’t enough minority characters to their liking.

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Stories of My Childhood: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

What is the book about?

This series of books is about Peter Hatcher (originally in fourth grade) and his little brother Fudge. The books typically consist of mini-stories, but it’s in a chapter book format with an overlying theme to tie it together.

In the original book, Fudge is a two year old known for throwing tantrums and just being an embarrassment to Peter. They have many entertaining days, including Fudge spoiling a school project, bribing Fudge with Oreos to be in a commercial, and many more. In book 2, Superfudge, the family moves from NYC to Princeton for a year. In Fudge-a-Mania (maybe my favorite), the family, plus Peter’s friend Jimmy and arch-enemy Sheila, goes to Maine for three weeks. In the final installment, Double Fudge, Fudge becomes obsessed with money. While on a trip to DC to see how money is made, they run into long-lost family members and life is turned upside down. I’m unusual in that I think that the last two books are my favorites.

How did I discover it?

My mom purchased the book for me. I was drawn in by what was a colorful cover (and the Comic Sans summary on the back!) but flipping through the text, it seemed boring and slow. I eventually got over it and very much enjoyed the book.

What do I love about the books?

They’re fun! These books are what I call “escapist books.” There’s not necessarily one plot problem to be solved except for Fudge; mainly it’s about stepping into another character’s world for a while and looking at their life. These books can be hit-or-miss for me, but the Fudge series hits a home run. The family dynamics are perfect and are a realistic as you can get. They’re also funny without being too out there. Everything in these books could happen in real life. Book 3 reminded me of my own family vacations, and I wasn’t even sure how since it took place in a different location.

Secondly, they age incredibly well. These are the best-aging books I’ve ever seen, though I think Harry Potter will have done well too. Save for the very occasional reference to a record player or a Harry Potter book on tape, these could take place in any generation. The first one was written in the 70s, but you’d never know it to read it today. Normally if the first book in a series took place in the 70s and then the final one wasn’t written until the 2000s, you’d know right away. With this series, you’d never know.

I love the characters, too, well-drawn without over-the-top effort put into them. I especially love seeing the three families get together in Fudge-A-Mania. Grandma and Buzzy Senior for life–incidentally two of my favorite characters. 

Digging deeper into the fandom

When I started doing my old college blog, I had the idea to do a post on Office Scranton vs. real life Scranton, meaning that I would note the locations used in the show and compare them. I found out so many interesting things. For example, Lake Scranton could never actually be used as a place for team building, nor would Michael be able to drive a car into it.

I did the same thing with Fudge-a-Mania. Many places mentioned are real, right down to the library (even the exterior is the same as described in the book!) to the harbor. I even spotted a couple places where their vacation house might be. Meanwhile, I also explored New York City in Google Maps to track down places mentioned in the other books. There is a scene in Double Fudge where Peter is telling Cousin Howie how to get to the vet’s office. After tracking down the family’s apartment (I actually believe that they would be very close by to the Hobbs family in Elf), I followed Peter’s directions exactly and…ended up at a vet’s office. Hey-o! Judy Blume’s sense of detail and direction is evident in her books and I think that’s awesome. Now not every place is real (I still can’t find a Tico-Taco or a Harry’s shoe store, unless they went out of business or something), but you would be amazed at how many locations you can track down. It really introduces you to the setting, and also shows dedication by the author.

I never did a post on this, but I would like to, so keep an eye out. If your current book takes place in a real location, I encourage you to get out Google Maps and see what you can discover! And while rereading it, your powers of visualization will be awesome.

Favorite memory involving the books

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing taught me the perils of looking ahead. It’s very tempting for many of us to peek ahead and see what happens. I really try not to do this.

Anyway, I did this for the first book and discovered the ultimate bad thing that Fudge does with Peter’s turtle. I was bummed, as it would be more shocking if I found it out when I was supposed to. My mom had asked me if I had finished yet, and when I said no, she said, “Wait until you see what Fudge does at the end!” I was disappointed that I already knew. After that, I never peeked ahead in a book again…that’s a lie.

I also recall times when I liked to read while I ate my lunch at home. These books were some of my favorite “lunch reads.”

How did the books inspire me?

I did try to write a few “escapist” stories starring a group of three friends, but that project has been tossed aside for now. 

My thoughts on the books now

I still love them and think of them as comfort books. I’m not ashamed to admit that when I was in college, sometime I’d use them as my bedtime reading. And maybe even still now! I enjoy being in a different world for a while and I love each character, not just Fudge. 

Did you read this series as a kid? What did you think?

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The “Missing Father” Trope: Other Ways To Handle Deadbeat Dads and Various Family Members

So if you’ve been on this blog for a while, you know that I’m really getting tired of missing fathers. I mean, really tired. Here are all the books on my current bookshelf and book blog that feature a main character dealing with their missing father, or wanting to learn more about them, or at least having some familiar conflict with them:

The Hypnotist’s Love Story
The Breakdown
The Kiss Quotient
Never Let You Go
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine (mostly with mom but dad too)
Wild
My Not-So-Perfect Life (somewhat; the good father relationship was a major plus but the “regret” she feels towards their relationship was meh)
A Dog’s Journey
The Storyteller
Pupcakes (with a mom rather than a dad)
Harry Potter series
My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry
Silver Linings Playbook (strained father relations)
The Bassoon King
The Other Woman
A Simple Favor
You (only watched the series, but this is presumably in the book too and was so completely and utterly pointless that the episode probably could have been skipped altogether)
Roomies (YA)
Before She Knew Him
The Woman in the Window

UPDATES SINCE FIRST PUBLISHED:
One Perfect Lie
Best Day Ever

Keep in mind I don’t have THAT big of a bookshelf. It seems like including a missing father plot is publishing law now. I can barely recall the last time a book didn’t ever mention a father, or at least some sort of issue.

All these books were ones I read pretty recently. The missing father aspect in most of them was in no way necessary, and in some cases it distracted from the overall story. (I’m especially looking at The Hypnotist’s Love Story, which significantly lessened the quality of an otherwise great book.) In a few, it worked (Harry Potter, for example, and that was before the trope took off anyway; and The Breakdown; and Never Let You Go; and The Bassoon King was a memoir so it made sense). Other times, it just seems forced. Like my oft-complained about YA romances, missing fathers tend to distract from the plot when the author realizes that maybe we’d rather hear more about that. 

So why is this such a thing? I guess because it’s an easy way to add conflict, and it can be easy to relate to. Still, it’s getting very overdone and boring. What other angles might an author take?

The protagonist can have a good relationship with their father.

I know that family issues aren’t uncommon, but neither are good family relationships. Yet for some reason I see this pretty rarely. This was the case in My Not So-Perfect Life, but it was still mixed with some angst. I wonder why this isn’t done more often. 

Show the divorce process.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a YA character grapple with living with one or the other? It’s something new to bring to the table.

Introduce a different father figure.

This could be a teacher, an uncle, or even a friend’s father. The Book Thief did this really well with Liesl’s guardian….and they did a male friendship really well too. Both good ideas! 

Show strained relations with a different relative.

A cousin rivalry, a grumpy grandmother, or a twin would give the novel some sort of a different twist. 

Don’t mention the family.

Maybe the main character is on her own. Authors shouldn’t feel obligated to include family characters just for the sake of including them. This is when the trope becomes a problem. Writers feel the need to include family members and then have no clue what to do with them, so they resort to the easy missing father.

Make the book a comedy.

Picture this: a comedy about Lila White’s crazy grandmother. The grandmother robs banks to get money for her granddaughter, calls herself Atomic Grandma, and replies with “I’m not YOUR grandma; I’m HER grandma!” whenever anyone but Lila calls her Grandma White. So when she goes missing, Lila knows that she has to track her down before Grandma does any real damage! 

These were characters I created in my childhood. Making a story lighthearted–maybe not quite to the extent I described–would provide a different look at the “missing relative” without all the angst. 

It’s not a bad thing to have fathers in books. Let’s just show a little more variety, or maybe forego them altogether once in a while, because I am tired of hearing it.

How do you feel about fathers in books?

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Stories of My Childhood: Captain Underpants

Welcome to a new series that I plan on exploring this year. I want to talk a little bit about the stories I loved as a kid and why I love them now. You’re never too old to outgrow your favorite story. My first pick? Captain Underpants. I recently finished writing a party quest for my Captain Underpants party on my party planning site, and it got me thinking back to old times.

Potty humor. Misbehaving boys. Superheroes. Not exactly what a third grade girl would be interested in, right? You’d be wrong. 

What is the book about?

Tired of their cruel principal, George and Harold order a 3-D Hypno Ring and use it to make him do crazy things…just long enough to get their pranking stuff back from his office. Their joke goes too far when they hypnotize him into believing that he is Captain Underpants, and he jumps out the window to go and fight crime. This pays off, though, because a villain just happens to be on the brink of destroying the world. Throughout the series, George and Harold bring back Captain Underpants to save the world from talking toilets, evil professors, alien lunch ladies, and more. 

How did I discover it?

I think it was from a school book fair. Posters of Captain Underpants hung on the walls at school, but I never really paid them any attention. Then my mom bought the first book for me. I wasn’t thrilled, but on one weekend afternoon, I sat down and read it. It was hysterical. There was a particular scene with a villain called Dr. Diaper looking like he pooped himself. I laughed until I cried. 

I then bought book 3, and then 5, and then 2…yes, out of order. Book 4, the plot of Professor Poopypants, came last. I’d also brought a spinoff, Super Diaper Baby, to a reading event at school one day and struggled to not laugh until I cried, not wanting to disturb the entire class. 

What do I love about the books?

Author Dav Pilkey is a really cool guy, and still one of my most admired authors. He takes a lot of inspiration from things that happened in his life, and the books reflect that. There are tons of fourth wall jokes. There are fun comics drawn by George and Harold, the creators of Captain Underpants. There are ridiculous jokes seen in the pages, particularly within drawings of signs, posters, and book covers. 

I also love George and Harold’s sense of fun. They’re not bad kids; they’re just creative, as we’re told to see them. Despite what protective librarians and gatekeepers might say, they didn’t encourage me to act out in school or misbehave. They did encourage me to be creative…more on that below. Finally, I thought the superhero story was clever and well-drawn, but you don’t have to like official superheroes to enjoy these books. It’s not realistic fiction when you add in all the technologies, super powers, and aliens that appear in later novels. Even the first book isn’t too realistic when you consider that a little guy in a diaper is using robots to help him blow up Earth…but before that, the book seems strangely plausible! The world is real (mostly), and that’s fun too. 

Digging deeper into the fandom

I’d always noticed links to websites on the back covers where you could visit to play games. One was Scholastic’s; the other belonged to the author. My dad suggested one rainy day that I try it, and I did. My sister and I, who I’d also gotten to read the books, had a blast playing the arcade games and using the comic creator. 

Pilkey.com was a whole different level of awesome. Fun facts about the books, legendary arcade games, pages created just for jokes (actually, one was literally a joke page), and facts about the author all made for hours of fun. Later on, there would actually be Captain Underpants songs that came out that we loved. 

My sister and I invented many games together, and eventually we started playing Captain Underpants. I would strip down to my underwear and a cape I had, and she would pretend to be his sidekick Harold. We’d go around the house pretending to fight the evil villains seen in the books.

Favorite memory involving the books

My sister and I played many games of Captain Underpants as mentioned above. Those were good times. At one point, though, we’d decided to put on a play for our parents. Act 1 featured me as George and her as Harold. Act 2 featured me as Captain Underpants and her as Deputy Doo Doo, a cowboy-hat wearing turd that was featured in the Super Diaper Baby book. The play was going smoothly until my sister decided to deliberately botch it. During random moments, she would take her cowboy hat, take a bow, and go, “Howdy, partner!” This was something she was only supposed to do once, but she would. not. stop. doing it. It drove me nuts, but we all laughed anyway. 

To this day, this infamous play still gets brought up on occasion. 

How did the books inspire me?

I made my own comic book, just like George and Harold did! It was about a smoothie (a type of character my best friend and I had invented that looked more like an ice cream cone) who had a sleepover at their friend’s house and woke up in a land of evil villains. It was called The Adventures of Cool Chocolate. 

My thoughts on the books now

I definitely took a peek into the later books on Amazon. Sadly, what I saw, I didn’t love. The plots get convoluted, the villains repeat, and at one point, Pilkey gets too carried away with snide political jokes. (I chuckled at the first one, but a whole chapter’s worth…meh.) Still, I do love the first five, or even the first seven. Actually, I wouldn’t mind reading book 8 either, which has the concept of an alternate universe.

But I love the first books as much as ever!

Captain Underpants was one of my favorite book series. Did you have any favorites? Feel free to share below.