Thursday, April 3, 2014

What we're reading: Ramona books

From the day I first found out I was having a baby girl, I looked forward to passing on my favorite childhood books, and envisioned us reading out loud together like Mom and I did a long time ago (Cheaper by the Dozen -- best front porch reading ever!).  Come to think of it, I would absolutely love to read aloud with my boy too, even though I have always pictured it as a mother-daughter thing with Ramona, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne of Green Gables, Caddie Woodlawn, and all of those classic girl heroines.  But of course, there are plenty of books with boys as the main characters, and no reason why either type of book wouldn't appeal to both sexes.  I enjoyed Hatchet, It's Like This, Cat, and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing when I was little.  I read a LOT as a kid, and it is my pleasure to pass on the love of reading to my kids, although I hope that they are able to find a balance between reading and lots of other things.  I preferred books to people, and really, to anything else from about age 10 on.  That led to a lot of social awkwardness and some difficulty living in the "real world."  From me the kids will maybe get their love of quiet, individual pursuits.  From their dad, I hope they get a healthy enjoyment of things like team sports.  Then they will be well-rounded individuals.

The girls, especially Delaney, love being read to.  It's hard to find time for it on a typical weekday between homework, Delaney's own reading requirement, soccer, and outside playtime which takes precedence now that we're having such beautiful weather.  We usually try to squeeze in a chapter before bed at least a couple times a week.  The last weekend was rainy and we read a lot.  For the past few weeks we've been reading the Ramona series.  We've read Ramona the Pest, Ramona the Brave and Ramona and her Father.  We are slowly working our way through Ramona and her Mother.  We've probably renewed these books at the library the maximum number of times we're allowed.  I try not to own any fiction books because they take up too much space and are a waste of money, especially in the case of brand new books.  But I might have to make an exception for the kids' books that we really enjoy.  I could buy the entire Ramona series from Scholastic right now for $18, and I think I'll do that so we can read them at leisure, and they can re-read them themselves.  I loved having a book collection when I was little, and being able to re-read my favorites.  I'd get something new out of them every time.
As a grownup and a mother revisiting these books, I'm having so much fun.  Beverly Cleary's writing is a little old-fashioned and kind of quaint.  For example, she frequently uses "cross" to mean angry and "quarrel" to mean fight.  The characters wear "car coats" when they go places.  I just checked to see what year the book was written after asking Tim, who was born in 1974, if he remembers car coats from childhood, but he does not.  I expected the copyright year to be 1965 when I looked inside the first pages of Ramona and her Mother, but to my surprise it was 1979, my birth year.  Hmm.  I am not sure where stories take place, but if I had to guess it would be the Pacific Northwest.  In addition to car coats, rain boots are mentioned frequently.  In Ramona the Brave, her mother tells her daughters that she's getting a part-time job to pay for an addition on their house.  The older sister Beatrice "Beezus" responds excitedly, "Oh, Mother, you're going to be liberated!"  I know that the Ramona books were written over a span of five decades.  A quick Google search tells me that the first came out in 1955 and the last in 1999.  I notice that adults are never referred to by their first names.  I have no idea the first names of Mr. and Mrs. Quimby, Ramona's parents.  They are "Mother and Daddy" or Mr. and Mrs. Quimby.  Wikipedia calls them "Bob" and "Dorothy," so I guess it is mentioned somewhere in one of the books.  When Ramona starts kindergarten in Ramona the Pest, she and her friend Howie are on their own walking the few blocks to school after the first few days.  In the 80s, I walked to school with my cousins/brother/friends from first grade on, but nowadays I suspect no little kids are walking without parents, and most are not walking at all.  More's the pity.
I find the characters in these books so lovable, as seen through the eyes of the high-spirited, impulsive and often misunderstood Ramona.  Ramona is always finding herself in some kind of trouble, and her sincerest efforts are always backfiring.  There's the time in Ramona and her Father when she and her recently out-of-work father watch a commercial together that has a cute little girl telling a grownup that her pantyhose is wrinkly like an elephant's ankles or something.  Her dad comments that the kid must have made a fortune doing that commercial, so Ramona gets the bright idea to start acting like a cute kid in a commercial, in the hopes of being discovered, making her own commercial, and making her family rich.  Oh, and in the hopes of being loved and adored by all, which is what she wants more than anything.  So one day at school she tells her teacher that her pantyhose has more wrinkles than an elephant's legs.  Poor Ramona can't understand why that doesn't go over well.  And it's on the same day as the parent-teacher conferences, no less.
Ramona, her responsible and (maddeningly) sensible older sister Beezus, and the Quimby parents are so real.  They experience stress and they say hurtful things to each other in the heat of the moment.  The themes  are not as light and fluffy as the typical fare for kids in younger grades.  When Mr. Quimby gets laid off from work, the family struggles to adjust to the loss of income and having Mrs. Quimby work full-time while he looks for another job.  Ramona and Beezus launch an ultimately successful campaign to get their father to quit smoking.  I squirmed a little as I read those parts out loud because I realized that my kids have never laid eyes on a cigarette or seen anyone smoking.  One evening Ramona and Beezus witness an argument -- a "quarrel" -- between their parents one night that starts with harsh words exchanged over whose job it was to turn on the crock-pot that morning.  That somehow escalates to a ridiculous debate over whose grandmother was a better woman.  Finally, as the girls watch with mounting anxiety, it culminates with Mrs. Quimby smacking her husband on the butt with the pancake turner.  I see myself so much in Mrs. Quimby, especially when she's at the end of her rope after a long hard day, and comes home to see that the dang crock-pot hasn't been turned on and they're all starving.  I told Tim about it and said that I can totally see how that argument started, and how, if he responded a certain way to my cranky remarks, we could wind up yelling at each other about things that have nothing to do with anything.  But while the kids have seen us have disagreements, they've never seen us completely lose our temper at each other.  Besides, when I get to that hungry, cranky state Tim sends me out of the kitchen.  In Mrs. Quimby, I also recognize my own wry humor, the way she gives in to the demands of her kids in an 'I guess, why not?' kind of way, and just tries to maintain her sanity when it seems like there is always something -- especially with a kid like Ramona.  I think all moms can relate.
My girls who do a fairly good job of staying out of trouble for the most part, can recognize the signs that Ramona is headed toward danger, and they kind of kind of cringe as they wonder what's going to happen next.  Ramona wants to squeeze that brand new tube of toothpaste and keep squeezing..  bad idea, Ramona, don't do it.  By the way, this was 7 1/2-year-old Ramona who does this. Why?  Maybe if I had been that kid, I would understand, but I was more of a Beezus myself.  Ramona wants to make a beautiful crown out of burrs to wear on her head ..  I wouldn't if I were you.  On the other hand, I completely understand her frustration at "Susan with the boing-boing curls" who copies off her paper owl and gets accolades from the teacher, leaving Ramona to look like she'd been the copy cat.  I can't stand a copy cat either.  This one event mushroomed into probably the worst of all the disasters of Ramona's first grade year.  It is such a relief to me when she finally tearfully explains the entire thing to her family, and Mrs. Quimby says she actually feels sorry for Susan because she's the one who has no imagination.

We are only about halfway through the Ramona series, and at the rate we're going it will take an entire year to get through them.  There are also a wealth of other Beverly Cleary books to dig into once we're done.  I know there are a few movies out there based on the books, and I glanced at one at the library.  I see one Beezus and Ramona has Selena Gomez as the star.  Interesting.  Would we like it or would it be a big disappointment?


  1. YES! This is awesome! Seriously fast forwarding my life about two years and I hope to be where you're at. I loved, loved, loved reading as a kid and gobbled up Anne of Green Gables, the Ramona Books, all the Judy Blume books, Baby-sitters club, etc. I actually have my huge collection of BSC books saved for Allie when she can read them and I can't wait - might have to read them with her again. We actually checked out Ramona Quimby Age 8 from the library last year and tried to do a chapter a night, but Allie was a little young I guess because she was disappointed there weren't enough pictures. I remember watching a few Ramona shows on TV when I was younger - for some reason I remember they were on Sundays because I usually missed them (being at church), but on the off chance they were when we got home from church or we went to a different service, I was obsessed - seeing the REAL characters on TV was great. So, I think the girls would like seeing the movies. I think as adults we maybe put too much stock into "was the movie like the book" but kids are a little more forgiving and would love just seeing things come to life. I think of all the Cinderella and other princess books we've read and Allie just loves when she finally sees the movie.

    1. Ooh, I loved Babysitters Club too! I remember forming "clubs" with the little girls who lived on my street. We wished we could be hired as babysitters, but we were a little too young. We still took turns being President, Vice President, Treasurer, etc. Who knows what else we did, but it was fun. Delaney's teacher has BSC in her classroom collection, which surprised me b/c I think I was reading them when I was a few years older.

      As far as movies based on books, I feel like, why not give it a whirl? The kids are not nearly as fussy as the adults about things like that.