Thursday, April 14, 2016

Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary

It was Beverly Cleary's 100th birthday on April 12th. I missed the boat. Fortunately, Beverly Cleary is always in style.

Ramona, while Cleary's most famous creation, was not her first. Ramona started out as a secondary character to give the Henry Huggin's stories more depth. In typical Ramona fashion however, she refused to stay in the shadows and emerged to star in eight of her own books as one of the most loved characters in children's literature of the 20th century. 

Beverly Cleary books were some of the first books I remember reading. One of the many, many articles about Beverly Cleary on her birthday, said "For decades the Ramona books have been a gateway drug luring young readers into the spellbinding world of books." (Full article here.) 

Apparently I have Ramona and Beverly Cleary to blame for my encroaching stacks of books all over my house...

(Did you know how Ramona got her name? While Cleary was sitting there contemplating a name for Beezus' little sister, the neighbor called in her cat, named Ramona. A star was born.)  

Ramona and her string

"Beatrice Quimby's biggest problem was her little sister Ramona."

Riding her tricycle around the coffee table wheezing out two notes of "Oh my darling" on her harmonica. 

I always wanted to be Ramona when I was little. She was so interesting. I was boring. The trouble I got into was prosaic, The trouble Ramona got into was marvelous. I was much more like Beezus--slightly earnest, well intentioned, and envious of Ramona's imagination. In one of the chapters in this book, Ramona tags along to Beezus' art class. She drags her string, which is actually tied around her imaginary pet lizard's neck, and charms everyone with her imagination. Meanwhile, Beezus tries to let her mind go and imagine a fantastical creature. The best she comes up with is a unicorn, which looks a lot like the Mobilgas sign. That would be me in art class. 

Prim and proper Beezus is stymied by her improper and disgusting sister at every turn. Here Ramona shows some society ladies her scab. 

Ramona at the library, trying to prove she can sign her name, the requirement for getting your own personal library card. The librarian laughed at something Ramona said and Beezus discovered she didn't like other people laughing at Ramona. After all how could she know what the librarian meant? 

Being the oldest sister is hard. Being four is hard. 

Henry and Beezus, absorbed in their game of checkers, committed the cardinal sin of ignoring Ramona. She decided to remind them of her presence in a dramatic fashion. 

I think of Ramona whenever my kids get a new batch of apples in the fall.

Ramona, having her "quiet time."

The careful 1955 housekeeping and then... Ramona. 

Ramona wanted a party, but knew if she asked, Mother would say no. So Ramona skipped that step and went ahead and invited the kids. Ramona always has a perfectly logical reason for why she does things. It makes sense to her. 

That was one of Beverly Cleary's greatest triumphs--getting inside the mind of little kids. Even though I have a terrible memory, reading a Ramona book jostles feelings I had forgotten I had. The impotence of being four. The strange and incomprehensible ways of adults. The small obsessions and seemingly giant problems.  

Everyone at Ramona's party wanted a parade. Except Ramona. She was not approving of how the kids were behaving. She wanted them to act a certain way, and they were not toeing the line. 

On her birthday, Beezus' second cake is in the oven, while she settles in with a good book. (Ramona ruined the first attempt by putting eggs (shells and all) in while Mrs. Quimby's back was turned.) Suddenly she smells a terrible smell. 

And there, next to the birthday cake, is Ramona's doll Bendix. (or was it Chevrolet? I think it was Bendix.) Ramona strolls in a few minutes later and asks if the witch is done yet. Bendix had been the wicked witch in Hansel and Gretel and simply had to be shoved in the oven. 

Ramona dissolves in tears about poor rubber Bendix' altered state. Beezus dissolves into tears about her ruined, slightly rubbery birthday cake. 

Enter the heroic Aunt Beatrice, Beezus' namesake, with a cake from a bakery. 

This picture makes me laugh every time! I know there have been updated illustrations for the Ramona books and I am sure they are quite nice, but Ramona will always look like Louis Darling's version of Ramona to me. 

Mother and the marvelous birthday cake. Over the dinner, during which Ramona was sent to her room for general misbehavior, Beezus confides her terrible, deepest, darkest secret to her aunt and mother. Sometimes, she doesn't love Ramona. 

Instead of being shocked and telling her what a bad girl she is, they burst out laughing and tell about all the times they hated each other while they were growing up. Through their stories and reassurances, Beezus comes to realize that loving your sister does not mean liking her all the time. 

It is okay for her to not like Ramona at all. 

And because she suddenly understands that, Beatrice Quimby's biggest problem becomes a much smaller problem. 

Oh how I love Beverly Cleary. She doesn't moralize. She doesn't try to make Ramona better in the end. She just tells a story about two sisters. An honest, believable, and totally hilarious story.  

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