If you asked me who my spirit animal would be in children’s literature, one of the contenders would definitely be Ramona Quimby. She is fearless and creative and just totally full of…imagination. Not the word you thought I would use! (And that word would also fit.) Anywho, Ramona was hilarious and I admired her ingenuity in problem solving. Like that one time she lost her shoe and used paper and tape and a stapler, I think, to make another one so she could get through the school day. Who would think of that? She was the bane of her big sister, Beezus, and her parents were often at a loss to understand her, but they all loved her and everything was okay in the end.
Really, I also would have said that I read all of the Ramona books as a kid but looking back, I think I might have just read the same one over and over – Ramona the Brave. Apparently, I was unaware that there were more? Or, maybe I just couldn’t tear myself away from the book I loved for something I might not like as well? I was that kid who read the same books over and over if I loved them, so who knows.
Regardless, I decided to go back and read through the series from beginning to end and that’s when I started to realize that my Ramona experience was limited. I also realized that I might not have loved Ramona as much if I had started with Beezus and Ramona, because little 4-year-old Ramona was a terror!
If you haven’t been exposed to Ramona before, have patience. Beezus and Ramona may not endear her to you but stick with the series! Beezus is the central character in this book, not Ramona. Beezus is really named Beatrice, but Ramona couldn’t say that, so Beezus became the go to moniker for her. Beezus was named after her mother’s younger sister, the cool aunt who teaches fourth grade and drives a yellow convertible. Beezus is almost 10 years old. Ramona is four. (You can imagine some of the trouble right there.) Beezus and Ramona’s mom is a homemaker and dad works – pretty typical for the day when this was published back in 1955.
Being nine, Beezus has a lot more maturity than Ramona. She is quiet and responsible and aware of how to act in polite society. Ramona is the opposite in every way. Beezus does some basic sewing and likes to read and enjoys playing checkers with her neighbor, Henry Huggins, who comes over for the occasional visit. Ramona can’t stand to not be the center of attention and she especially wants the attention of big sis Beezus. Ramona goes out of her way to do the most outrageous things she can think of, like coloring on every page of a library book so she can keep it forever (unconcerned that her mother has to actually pay for the book); invites a bunch of kids over for a party (without asking her mom first); and eating exactly one bite out of half a crate of apples (without a care that she’s wasting the food). Again, she’s four and any attention seems like good attention. Poor Beezus, though. She always seems to be the most affected by Ramona’s behavior and Ramona is never regretful of what she does. She’s regretful when she’s sent to her room or ignored by her family, but not seemingly regretful of her actions.
Beezus is feeling guilty for not liking or even loving her sister when Ramona acts bad but she does also have times when she enjoys doing activities with Ramona. The big denouement comes on the day of Beezus’s tenth birthday. Ramona ruins not one, but two birthday cakes and Beezus has reached her limit. Beezus confesses to her mom and aunt that sometimes she doesn’t love Ramona. Beezus is ready for a shocked lecture from her two favorite women, and is shocked herself when the adult sisters laugh and laugh and confess that they had many times growing up where they didn’t love each other either and that it’s a perfectly normal part of growing up with a sibling. Beezus is so relieved and enjoys being regaled with stories of her mom and her aunt as children and the irritating things they used to do to each other. Beezus has hope that she and Ramona will grow up and be able to look back on their own childhood with the same love and laughter she sees from her aunt and mother. (Spoiler alert – the third birthday cake survives!)
From the three different covers shown, you can tell that the story of these two siblings remains relevant to generations of audiences. Ramona craves attention from her beloved big sister and Beezus admires and is jealous of Ramona’s free spirit and imagination. After Beezus and Ramona, author Beverly Cleary changes the focus of the series from Beezus to Ramona. As the character grows up, she doesn’t slow down any but she does mature as most children do. Cleary is still hailed as one of America’s most loved children’s authors and her series about the Quimby girls and Henry Huggins cross over frequently.
Cleary tuned 100 a couple of years ago and you can watch an interview here. She is still delightful and you can see the impish Ramona peeking through in her personality. For Cleary’s 102nd birthday, Vox took a look at Ramona’s “enduring appeal.” Cleary’s website lists her books, and many of them may be favorites of yours. If you. notice the image at the top of the post, you’ll see that it’s the cover of an audio book. Not surprising since I mention that I listen to audio books a lot, and this one does not disappoint. It’s read by the fabulous Stockard Channing which is an extra special treat because I’m a huge fan of hers, too!
Ramona and company are literature legends and I would highly recommend them to you and yours. There’s a great article from NPR here that lauds Ramona (during a publicity blitz for the feature film based on the books) and Mental Floss has some fun facts on Ramona here.