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Literature / Ellen and Otis

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Ellen and Otis is a two-book series written by Beverly Cleary, following the daily exploits of the titular characters in Portland, Oregon.

The series consists of:

  • Ellen Tebbits (1951) — Third-grader Ellen lives on Tillamook Street and attends Rosemont School, and early on befriends the new girl in town, Austine Allen. However, one day, the two girls have a brief falling-out after a misunderstanding.
  • Otis Spofford (1953) — Ellen Tebbits and her troublemaking classmate Otis Spofford are in the fourth grade, and the story follows Otis's point of view as he looks for ways to liven up his life, until he goes too far in his teasing of Ellen one day.

Both books contain examples of:

  • Ambiguously Absent Parent: Otis Spofford's mom takes care of him and runs the dance school, but his father John Spofford never appears in either book, and his name is only known by virtue of the first book referring to Otis's mother as "Mrs. John Spofford" briefly.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Otis has a tendency to get in trouble during class because he finishes his schoolwork ahead of time.
  • Jerkass: Otis Spofford. Played straight in Ellen Tebbits and deconstructed in his own book.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Ellen Tebbits and Otis Spofford, to each other. Otis got started antagonizing Ellen because his mother is Ellen's ballet teacher (and he likes to see Ellen get mad), and he's usually (but not always) the instigator.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Ellen Tebbits is the girly girl to her tomboy best friend Austine Allen.

Ellen Tebbits contains examples of:

  • Car Ride Games: At one point, Ellen and Austine play the Alphabet Game (searching for letters on signs) in the car.
  • Comedic Underwear Exposure: Pointed out by Otis in the "biennial beet" chapter when he notices that Ellen tore her dress.
  • Coordinated Clothes: In one chapter, Ellen and Austine decide to dress like twins for the first day of school and ask their mothers to make them matching dresses. It doesn't turn out the way they hoped, as Austine's mother isn't a particularly good seamstress and Austine's dress turns out badly.
  • Embarrassment Plot: Ellen and Austine met and became best friends because they were both getting changed in the broom cupboard due to their embarrassment about wearing woolen underwear, which they think is too old-fashioned. Ellen also has a moment of trying to awkwardly do ballet while her underwear was slipping.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Ellen has this reaction in the first chapter of the book, when she lashes out at Austine, who has just moved to Portland from California, for talking about California all the time. She apologizes afterward and the two become friends.
    • Later, she has this reaction immediately after slapping Austine across the face for allegedly untying the sash of her dress, thus seemingly ending their friendship. It doesn't help later when she finds out that the culprit was Otis, and not Austine.
  • Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure: Between Ellen and Austine, due to the slap the former gives the latter.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Otis only ever does ballet to mess with the girls taking lessons, but Ellen privately notes that he can do the moves as well as any of them.
  • Rebound Best Friend: When Ellen and Austine stop being friends, Austine tries hanging out with Linda instead.
  • School Play: Ellen's class puts on a production of The Pied Piper of Hamelin with a Bowdlerised ending: in their version, the Pied Piper brings the children home and the kids get to do a maypole dance.
  • Teacher's Unfavorite Student: Subverted — Ellen thinks that Miss Joyce does not like her because she's the only student who is never asked to clap the chalkboard erasers, which is considered very enjoyable. It turns out that Miss Joyce never asked her because she thought Ellen wouldn't want to get chalk dust all over her dresses, as she always keeps them so neat and clean.
  • Uncool Undies: Early on, Ellen is fearful that the other kids will find out her mother makes her wear woolen underwear, so she takes care to get to ballet class ahead of time so she can change early without her classmates noticing. One of the catalysts for her friendship with Austine is that Austine's mother also makes her daughter wear woolen underwear.

Otis Spofford contains examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: When Otis' mother finds him walking around on his ice skates in the final chapter, she starts interrogating him without stopping to listen to his answers and then drives away. Otis can't believe it.
  • Arc Words: Various adults keep warning Otis that "[he'll] get his comeuppance."
  • Asshole Victim: Otis, in the final chapter, when Ellen and Austine finally get the better of him, and when even his "friends" Stewy and George, side with the girls against him (of course, they have their own reasons to enjoy witnessing Otis's comeuppance). Even though Otis has it coming, one can't help feeling at least a little sorry for him.
  • Big Brother Instinct: When Austine's older brother Bruce catches Otis bullying her and Ellen one day, he suggests that they turn the tables and bully him (the implication being that he would beat Otis up if he tried to retaliate).
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Averted, since Otis does his best to get into trouble. Otis's class puts on a fake bullfight as part of a school performance, and Otis (as the front half of the bull) goes off script and causes the bull to win the fight. As the teacher is preparing to chew him out, several parents approach and tell her how hilarious the fight was and what a good idea it was to have the bull win. Otis doesn't get in trouble from the teacher, and outruns the two boys who played the toreador and the back half of the bull.
  • The Compliance Game: When Otis is helping high-school football star Hack Battleson collect bugs for biology class, he gets the little neighbour boy to help by saying, "Let's pretend we're scientists looking for specimens".
  • A Day in the Limelight: Otis Spofford is the title character of this book after having originally had a supporting role in Ellen Tebbits.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Invoked when Otis cuts Ellen's hair and, rather than laugh, the class just stares at Otis. Otis even realizes right before he does it that he's going way too far; however, when Ellen calls his bluff, pride prevents him from backing down and he does it.
  • Everyone Has Standards: While Otis is a big troublemaker, he's not malicious and doesn't actually want anyone or anything to get hurt. While thinking of ways to cause trouble, he considers letting the class's rats out of their cage, but decides against it as they might get lost or stepped on.
  • Garlic Is Abhorrent: Otis brings some raw garlic cloves to school and tries to eat one. He barely lives through it, but then enjoys using his garlic induced halitosis to mess with Ellen.
  • Hope Spot: Twice.
    • During the spitball punishment, the fire alarm goes off. Otis almost makes it to the water fountain, but just before he can drink he's caught by the principal and dragged back to his class.
    • During the ice skates incident, his mother drives by - then just chews him out and drives off without listening to him.
  • Humiliation Conga: Happens to Otis at the end of his book. Ellen and Austine steal his shoes while he's ice skating in retaliation for Otis having cut Ellen's hair, making him walk home in his ice skates to the amusement of all the kids and irritation of all the adults he meets.
  • Lying Finger Cross: Invoked by both Ellen and Otis himself or, in the terminology of the book, "having kings." Ellen invokes it when pretending to apologize for having called Otis "Big Chief Pink Underwear." At the end of the book, after Ellen and Austine return his boots to him on the promise that he won't tease Ellen anymore, Otis reveals to Ellen that he had his fingers crossed when he made that promise.
  • Pet the Dog: A big example from both Ellen and Otis over a rat.
    • The class does a science experiment on two rats about a healthy diet, feeding one rat (Pinky) healthy food and the other (Mutt) white bread and soda pop. The rat with the unhealthy food looks so miserable that Otis and Ellen, independently, start sneaking him real food.
    • When the experiment ends and Mutt turns out bigger than Pinky, the teacher immediately tells the class that someone spoiled the experiment by feeding Mutt. Just before Otis is about to take credit, Ellen takes credit. They're both astonished at each other — Otis thought Ellen wouldn't care about a rat, and Ellen thought Otis wouldn't care about an animal at all.
    • Afterwards both Ellen and Otis want to adopt Mutt, and because she confessed to feeding him first, the teacher lets Ellen have him. When it doesn't work out because her mother didn't want a rat in the house, she gives him to Otis.
  • Production Foreshadowing: One chapter has the titular character doing a favor for an older boy from Zachary Taylor High School, and mentions his team will be playing Benjamin Harrison High School. Eleven years later, Cleary would release Ribsy, the final Henry Huggins book, in which Ribsy ends up at a football game between these same two schools.
  • Radish Cure: In one chapter, Otis's teacher has him make spitballs exclusively as punishment for shooting them. Otis sees this as a Cool and Unusual Punishment at first, until he realizes that it prevents him from participating in class and also dries his mouth out once he's run out of spit.
  • Red Sock Ruins the Laundry: Otis comes to school in a pink undershirt at one point. He claims it's because his mom accidentally put one of his glow-in-the-dark socks in with the rest of the laundry, though the other students don't care about the cause; they just mock him for having pink underwear at all.
  • Sad Clown: Behind Otis' mischievousness, smart-alecyness, and class clown tendencies, is a kid with no close friends who doesn't quite fit in and knows it.
  • Tempting Fate: When his spitballs aren't getting as much reaction as he'd hoped, Otis spits one just next to his teacher's head. He gets his reaction.
  • Took a Level in Badass / Took a Level in Jerkass: Ellen Tebbits gets both in this book. It's hard to imagine the Ellen of Ellen Tebbits teasing Otis for his pink underwear, or literally shoving Otis to the ground, but she does both here. Just before shoving him down, she tells Otis it's because she's not afraid of him anymore.
  • Those Two Guys: Two boys named Stewart and George. They're friends with each other and sometimes friendly but sometimes antagonistic towards Otis.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Otis gives Ellen one as revenge for humiliating him in class. At first he doesn't understand why she's so upset, until he remembers that Ellen has been letting her hair grow long enough to braid.
  • Villain Protagonist: Otis himself, the class troublemaker and all-around nuisance, is the main character.