Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Ramona Series

As if by magic, a hardcover copy of Ramona Forever appeared on my playroom bookshelf the same year I began to take an interest in chapter books. I can't remember if I read it before or after my third-grade reading group was made to read excerpts from Ramona Quimby, Age 8, but it was my first encounter with the series and is still my favorite Ramona book. When I was a kid, it was the unwritten law that all Oregonian schoolkids had to be well-versed in all things Cleary... the fact that the author spent her childhood here made her the celebrity to outdo all celebrities. Two of her books were Newbery Honors, and in the early 80's, she'd been given the coveted Newbery Medal. We were all impressed, and it gave many of us hope. Hope that we, too, could overcome our Oregonianness and achieve fame, and have our own books someday forced into the hands of young schoolkids. A noble goal, indeed.

In the late 80's, Ramona was a big deal in more ways than one. The TV series Ramona hit American TV -- 10 half-hour episodes depicting the events in Ramona and Her Mother; Ramona Quimby, Age 8; and Ramona Forever. Perhaps because I was eight years old at the time, too, I felt a connection with Ramona. The things she did and felt in the books were things that I, too, had experienced. I was hooked. Before long, I'd read every single Ramona book, and was eager for more. The last four books in the series had been published in about a nine-year span; Ramona Forever came out in 1984. By my calculations, a new book in the series was due. And yet, a new Ramona book never came out -- during my childhood, anyway. When Cleary published Muggie Maggie in 1990, I was resentful -- angry that she had written a book that wasn't about Ramona.

Despite my anger, I did take a look at some of Cleary's other books. I liked Henry and Beezus, and soon discovered that the Henry books were like a surprise gold mine -- Ramona had cameos! I also liked Cleary's picture books. In high school, I discovered her "teen" books, which are completely hilarious: Jean and Johnny, Fifteen, and The Luckiest Girl all talk about the ups and downs of courting... in the 1950s. Of course, that's when they were written, so what do you expect? Still, it was nice to discover something of an old, familiar friend in that high school library.

I was in college when Cleary finally emerged with a sequel in the series I had come to love -- Ramona's World. Our local newspaper ran a big feature on Cleary, talking about how impressive it was that a woman in her 80s had written a book (and she's still writing them, actually.) What'll be even more impressive, I think, is if Cleary publishes a final Ramona book 15 years after Ramona's World (15 years was the span between Forever and World. That'll put her at 98 years old. Seriously, I'd be impressed.

Recently, I read A Girl From Yamhill, the first of two Beverly Cleary autobiographies, which is a great read, and also gives insight into some of Cleary's plots. The reason she wrote the Henry (and Ramona) stories? Because, as a child, she desperately wanted to read books about everyday children, playing outside and doing the fun things she did with the kids in her neighborhood. So when she became an adult, she wrote those kinds of books. And I love her for it.

Here are synopses of the eight Ramona books. Check them out, buy them, read them, love them, and be sure to pass them on!

The Ramona Books

Overview: Ramona is a little girl growing up in Portland, Oregon. She lives with her parents, big sister Beezus, and (later) baby sister, Roberta. In most of the books, her best friend is Howie Kemp. She loves to rollerskate, color, and use her imagination.


Though told in third-person from Beezus's point of view, this book is Ramona-centric. Beezus is fed up with four-year-old Ramona doing terrible things and ruining Beezus's life. Each time Ramona knocks over a table, destroys a birthday cake, or draws all over a library book, Beezus becomes exasperated. Why can't Ramona just grow up? It wouldn't be so bad if Ramona ever got in trouble for her terrible deeds, but everyone seems to think Ramona is adorable, and nobody seems to understand how Beezus feels. It isn't until the girls' Aunt Beatrice comes to visit that Beezus begins to understand that all little sisters have a tendency to be obnoxious, but that she really does love Ramona... and someday, they might even be friends. 


Ramona hates being called a pest. She doesn't try to be naughty. And she just can't help herself when she gets the desire to pull Susan's sproingey hair. Now that she's in Kindergarten, Ramona is ready for all sorts of adventures. She loves her new teacher, and she really likes school... but being a non-pest is going to be her biggest challenge.


Ramona's in first grade, now, and is in a bit of a shock over how different first grade is from Kindergarten. Lots of things are happening -- the Quimbys have decided to build a new room onto the house, which means that Ramona will be getting her own room. Sleeping alone? Kinda scary. But Ramona is determined to be brave. When a classmate copies Ramona's artwork and gets praise for it, Ramona's so furious she crumples up the other girl's work... then fears her parents' disapproval. Her bravery is really put to the test when she meets a big, mean dog on the way to school one morning... but, knowing Ramona, she'll find a way to get past this latest challenge with determination and spunk.


During the first half of Ramona's second grade year, many changes happen in the Quimby household. First of all, Mr. Quimby loses his job. This means Mrs. Quimby has to start working full time. While he looks for a new job, Mr. Quimby is pretty grumpy. Ramona just wants her family to be happy again. They'd be happy, she's sure, if they were rich. When she hears that kids in TV commercials get paid a lot of money, she begins to fantasize about being a little actress. This leads to her crowning herself with a crown made of burrs -- which, of course, cling to her hair. After that, she decides acting is not for her.


People are always commenting on how much Beezus and Mrs. Quimby are alike, and Ramona is envious of their close relationship. Throughout the story, she tries to make herself invaluable to her mother, so that she can get the same kind of love she feels Mrs. Quimby gives to Beezus. But, of course, it's unnecessary. Also, Mr. Quimby has finally found a job, which means both her parents are working, so now Ramona has to start going to the Kemps' house after school. She dislikes Howie's grandmother, Mrs. Kemp, and is angry that she is expected to play with four-year-old Willa Jean... but, for the sake of keeping her parents happy and employed, she endures.


Now entering third grade, Ramona is still trying to do her part as a cooperative member of the family. But it's so hard going to the Kemps' every day. Plenty is going on at school. Ramona makes a new friend, Danny (aka Yard Ape), and her teacher, Mrs. Whaley, is okay... that is, until Ramona overhears Mrs. Whaley making a comment that suggests she thinks Ramona is a nuisance. Okay, so Ramona broke an egg on her head and it happened to be raw (she thought it was hard-boiled!) But she didn't mean to! When Ramona gets sick on the floor of her classroom, she's sure Mrs. Whaley must think she's a super-nuisance, now.


As third grade winds to a close, many exciting things happen in the Quimby household. After a particularly bad day at the Kemps' (thanks, in part, to Howie's Uncle Hobart, who likes to tease), Ramona tearfully informs her family that she will not be going back there. EVER! Luckily, her parents agree that Beezus is old enough to take care of Ramona at home, after school. Then the next bit of exciting news is... Mrs. Quimby is pregnant! The next shocker to come along isn't quite as nice. The girls' Aunt Beatrice is getting married... but it's who she's marrying that disgusts Ramona. Summer begins, and after the wedding (in which Beezus and Ramona participate), Mrs. Quimby gives birth to the newest little Quimby.


During her fourth grade year, Ramona makes a new best friend, falls through a ceiling, and is very excited about turning the Big 1-0. 

This article was originally published on my old website on February 26, 2005.

No comments: