I can't believe this is already my 11th post for my Childhood Challenge; that means I only have one more book to read to complete my year-long challenge. This year has gone by fast! This month I re-read Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary.
From My Memory
The Ramona books were a staple in our household when I was growing up. My sister collected all of them, and I borrowed them from her. I remember thinking I was a lot like Ramona--Ramona had an older sister (Beezus), and even though they fought, I think Ramona thought her sister was pretty cool and wanted to be like her but came up short. Growing up, I often felt eclipsed by my cooler older sister and thought that I was just her dorky younger sister. It felt good to have a literary character to bond with. My favorite of the series was Ramona Quimby, Age 8, which I first read in the third grade—the same age as Ramona in the book. I read it on a day that I was sick and stuck at home (as a kid I much preferred going to school than staying at home), and I loved the book so much that I read the entire thing that day. Though I’m not sure how long it has been since I’ve last read this book, I know it’s been a while (as in more than 15 years). Two plot lines stick out in my memory of this book: Ramona and Beezus have to eat cow tongue, and they also cook their parents dinner, which in some ways turns out to be a disaster. Since Ramona Quimby, Age 8 was one the books that inspired my childhood joie de lire, I am especially excited to re-read this book.
After finishing the book, my first thought was “Beverly Cleary is amazing.” My second thought was “Man, I wish I could write like her.” She writes all the Ramona books in the third person but through Ramona’s perspective. It is oftentimes necessary and always brave, I think, for an author to tell a story meant for young readers through the eyes of a child so that the readers are able to better connect with the character and get more out of the story. I added the “brave” label because I think it is difficult for adults to capture children—their thoughts, dialogues, actions—and to make them believable characters to adults and young readers alike. Beverly Cleary does just that—she captures the characters. She doesn’t rely on outlandish plots to carry her books; in fact, the Ramona books are based on everyday occurrences. They’re not mysteries, they’re not exploring the wild unknown, they don’t have paranormal or magical themes… They’re real. They’re about life.
In this book, Ramona’s father is going back to college, which puts a bit of a financial strain on the family. Ramona knows it is important for her to be good to support her family while her mom and dad are stressed about paying the bills (and while her dad is stressed about having his own homework again), so a lot of the book centers around her struggle to be a good daughter and listen to her parents and her teacher and not fight too much with her sister or Willa Jean, the young girl whose grandmother babysits Ramona after school.
Ramona is at once an exasperating and enchanting character. The first day at school she meets a boy she terms “Yard Ape” and who picks on her by stealing her eraser and then calling her “Bigfoot.” Ramona shoots right back, “That’s Superfoot to you.” She’s sassy, full of life, and endearing. Her thought process reminds me of my own (both as a kid and an adult)—it is slightly random but completely connected in Ramona’s mind. For example, she is assigned a book report in which she has to sell a book about a cat and its journey in finding a home; she decides to perform a live commercial of sorts to sell the story. But as she is standing in front of her classroom reciting her lines for her commercial, she forgets what her ending line is. She goes to the only line she can remember from a real commercial and blurts out, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!” On the outside, it’s random; being privy to her thought processes, though, it makes sense.
The story is about a family going through changes, a young girl getting used to a new school, and a girl (and her older sister) trying to figure out this growing-up business. It isn’t fancy—it’s real. And lovable. After being enchanted all over again by Ramona Quimby, I am itching to go out and buy the whole series so I can regularly re-read them all.
I highly recommend the Ramona books for readers of all ages. Even if you never read them as a kid, I suggest you read one as an adult and cherish the memories of what it was like to be a child.