Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘anti-heroes

Beverly Cleary knows kids and humor. For my next tribute to anti-heroes in juvenile fiction, I’m turning to two of her characters. The most famous of them, Ramona, first made her grand entrance in Beezus and Ramona. Subsequently, Cleary has written seven standalone chapter books about the irrepressible Ramona. Perhaps less well-known, Otis first created mischief in Ellen Tibbits, but received the spotlight in Otis Spofford.

When Ramona the Pest first starts, Ramona is anxious to attend kindergarten. Ramona is so excited that she is proving a pest to everyone. She is singing and dancing to her older sister’s great annoyance. She’s also pushing her mother to hurry, hurry, hurry! Many of Ramona’s actions are understandable—when one knows her reasons behind them. For example, when her older sister and Mary Jane ask if they can walk Ramona to school, Ramona refuses because she knows full well they’ll talk in a baby voice to her. And when everyone in her class takes a nap, Ramona lays down too but then starts to snore. No, she doesn’t desire attention and laughs. Instead, Ramona wants to show her teacher how well she can sleep. She even has a reasonable explanation for all the black lines scribbled over her drawing of a house. You see, the house is on house. Ramona just seems like a misunderstood child.

But is she? Ramona also chases a boy around the playground. When Ramona is told to sit on the bench because of her misbehavior, she actually tells the teacher: “No.” Her reason? She wants to play Gray Duck. Ramona later pulls on a girl’s curls—even after being ordered to stop. When told she won’t be able to return to school if she can’t behave, Ramona thinks about those boing curls and becomes a kindergarten dropout. Ramona definitely has issues with rules! Yet the reason I like Ramona is because she is her own person. She stands up to boys who call her “Kindergarten baby!” When learning to print letters, in what is my favorite episode of the book, Ramona decorates the first letter of her last name with cat ears and a tail. As for her defiance of the rules, in reality, Ramona was being honest to herself and her teacher. She knew that pulling Susan’s curls was a huge temptation for her. And she admitted it. Because these are books by Beverly Cleary, Ramona eventually figures out a way to handle herself in school. Yet she also remains uniquely Ramona.

OtisSpotford“One of these days you’re going to go too far!” Everyone cautions Otis Spofford about his misbehavior, but Otis is one of those boys who likes to make people laugh, doesn’t like to take orders, enjoys stirring up excitement, and even finds it funny to make others mad. As for punishments, they’re worth it if he had fun. More than Ramona, Otis is a bad kid.

One day in dance class while preparing for a school performance, Otis finds himself bored and starts to complain. His teacher listens to him and offers him the part of a bull in a bullfight scene that will take place in the middle of the dance. If you think this satisfied Otis, think again. In barely any time, he’s bored again and so now is poking the bullfighter with his fake horns. The day of the performance, he even steals the show from everyone by acting like a silly bull. Granted, none of these antics seriously hurt anyone, but then there’s the day he threw spit balls in class. In what is my favorite episode in the book, Otis keeps spitting wads of paper at ones, despite the welt marks they create, until class ends. After all, what’s the worst his teacher can do to him? Otis isn’t afraid of his mom or the principal and so that means his teacher has to act far more resourceful is she is to stop him. Sadly, even when Otis learns his lesson about spit balls, he still doesn’t change his daily behavior.

Why then do I like Otis? Because of the reason that Otis creates mischief. He’s not an evil kid; just a bored one. Then there’s the fact he likes to do well at school, panics when trapped in a closet, and shows a love of animals. Otis has a likeable side. Last, there’s the final chapter. In it, the tables are turned on Otis. For once, the tricks are being played on him. And let me tell you, he doesn’t like it! Ultimately though, he takes it all in good fun.

Although Cleary wrote both of these books over fifty years ago, Ramona and Otis feel as real as if she’d written the books today. If you grew up reading Beverly Cleary, discover her again. If you didn’t, it’s time you did.

Really Random Tuesday is a meme created by Suko at Suko’s Notebook and is a way to post odds and ends about book-related things. Last week, I talked about anti-heroes. Now let me switch things up and write about heroes.


In a way, I suppose this is a redundant topic to write about. The bulk of our literature features heroes. Yet two articles prompted this post.

One of those articles, Where Have All Our Heroes Gone? poses the question about society itself. In Psychology Today, author Jim Taylor, contends that in his day the world was full of heroes. Moreover, he grew up wanting to emulate politicians, businessmen, social activities, athletes, and entertainers. In hindsight, despite the flaws of those leaders, he still views them as role models. Not so about the leaders whom he sees today and that his children desire to emulate. Instead “politicians are self-glorifying panderers, corporate leaders are greedy and corrupt, athletes are entitled and irresponsible, and entertainers are spoiled and aloof”. Hence, he asks: Where have all our heroes gone?

A second article, Making the Case for Heroes, poses the question about society AND about literature. In a Harvard Education Letter, author Peter Gibbon talks about how he studies the concept of heroes and travels the country to discuss the concept with students. Once upon a time, schools used to automatically offer examples of heroes in their textbooks and literary selections. Now society “offer lives that are seriously flawed, juvenile novels that emphasize mundane reality, and a history that is uncertain and blemished”. Unlike Taylor, however, Gibbons doesn’t encourage a return to the old ways, when the world mostly honored white, male, and privileged individuals. Rather, he suggests we find new heroes.

Why heroes? Gibbons argues that we can make the case for all kinds of heroes and show how the study of their lives can improve our own. Moreover, he cautions that anti-heroes can be dangerous when, instead of seeing them as characters to be wary of, we are seduced into antisocial behavior. When it comes to literature, Gibbons suggests that reading selections should pass the simple test of: “I feel greatly the better for having read it.” As for Taylor, he goes so far as to say that kids need to place their heroes on pedestals. That’s what gives heroes their power and causes children to want to emulate them.

The majority of my belief system comes from the heroes whom I grew up hearing about on the news or in literature. Their example is one of the reasons I became a special education teacher. Yet in over thirty years, I still feel the impact of having read about anti-heroes and feeling comforted by their stories. This is especially true for my teen years, when I felt like a failure than a role model. So, perhaps we need both anti-heroes and heroes in our lives.

Do you prefer to read about heroes or anti-heroes in literature? I didn’t really think much about my opinion on that question, until I started trying to write some of my fiction about bad kids. That led me on a search for examples of fiction with anti-heroes. To my surprise, I own some favorites. That realization led me to start reading what others are saying on this topic.

For example, a few years ago, The Guardian ran an article entitled, “Whatever happened to juvenile anti-heroes?” Most of the article amounted to a promotion of the Flossie Teacake series. However, the article also raised the alarm that there are an alarming shortage of bad girls in contemporary books for young people. Gone the article bemoaned are the pranksters and tomboys. In their place are girls who are concerned with being slim, proper, and stylish.

Other similar articles have popped up too. For example, one blogger, wrote an article entitled, “In Praise of Anti-Heroes“. According to her, young adult literature is filled only of characters who are sympathetic and likable. Reasons exist for this trend such as no likes to root for bad guys and no parent wants their impressionable young child reading about delinquents.

I don’t know yet what I think. My most recent read, The Curse Workers trilogy, is all about a teen con and mobster. The first time I tried to read it, I stopped when I read the statement from the main character: “Here’s the essential truth about me: I killed a girl when I was fourteen.” It took me an entire year to give the trilogy a chance again. Even though this time that I decided I liked Cassel, I have to admit throughout all three books for Cassel to change. Yet the reality about anti-heroes is that they don’t, so next I plan to check out some of those favorites on my shelves such as Pippi Longstocking to see what I think of them now that I’m an adult.

In Praise of Anti-Heroes, Michelle Muckley says that people are flawed in real life and so our fictional characters should be too. This is one reason she likes anti-heroes. Certainly, there are days when I tire of reading about good kids. I never felt all that perfect.

What do you think of anti-heroes? Are you ready for them to make a comeback? And what are your recommendations for the best?

Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Thank You!

Allison’s Book Bag will no longer be updated. Thank you for eight years!

You can continue to follow me at:



Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 127 other subscribers