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Beverly Cleary's Ramona Series Shows the Ups and Downs of Growing Up

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 0

Celebrated author Beverly Cleary created one of the most memorable characters in children's literature with Ramona Geraldine Quimby, the spirited youngster who lives on Klickitat Street and gradually matures from a pesky 4-year-old to an imaginative 10-year-old. Now the subject of a major motion picture, Ramona started out as a minor character in Cleary's Henry Huggins novels, but her prominence increased with a book focusing on her sister Beatrice, and she went on to star in seven books, each set in contemporary times. Hence, while she is four years old in the 1950s, she is ten moving into the 2000s. For that reason, later books in the series may appeal more to modern kids, but Ramona's personality is forceful enough to make her interesting no matter what era she's in.

Beezus and Ramona - Though she is not the main character in this novel, she drives a good deal of the action. When it came out, Cleary fans already knew Ramona's capacity for peskiness, and in this book, she's still mostly perceived as a nuisance. Beatrice, nicknamed Beezus, is a very responsible child, and it irks her that Ramona constantly embarrasses her and messes up her plans. Not only that, because she is so energetic, she demands most of her parents' attention, which hardly seems fair. It's good to get this perspective now, since later books often paint Beezus as a rather persnickety character. This is our only chance to see the world through her eyes. I actually read this book after I'd already read most of the Ramona books, and it definitely gave me a better appreciation for Beezus.

Ramona the Pest - Now in kindergarten, Ramona is as spirited as ever, but because she now spends a large portion of her day in school, she needs to learn a bit of discipline. This isn't easy for such a rambunctious child, but it helps that her teacher, Miss Binney, is usually very understanding of her foibles. In this book, we get to know Ramona's rather bland best friend Howie, along with her goodie-two-shoes rival Susan and her crush Davy. Ramona does plenty of irresponsible things throughout the book, and she lets sulkiness get the better of her in a big way, but she does learn a few lessons, and Cleary demonstrates how adept she is at getting into the head of a young child.

Ramona the Brave - Now that she has moved on to first grade, Ramona misses kindergarten, especially sweet Miss Binney, since her new teacher, Mrs. Griggs, is gruff and doesn't understand her quirks. For one thing, she disapproves of Ramona's habit of adding ears and whiskers to her "Q"s to make them look like cats. For another, Mrs. Griggs earns her wrath by punishing her after Susan copies her paper bag owl and Ramona squashes it in retaliation. Things aren't so great on the home front either, since Ramona has a new room all to herself, and that turns out to be a scary experience at night. Learning to be brave is something she will need to work on just as surely as she'll need to learn how to restrain her anger in the classroom.

Ramona and Her Father - The only Ramona book to receive a Newbury Honor Award, this delves into some heavy territory as Ramona's dad loses his job and falls into a depression. With economic concerns so much a part of everyday life, this book feels more timely than ever. Ramona's family is more unsettled in this book than any other, with her mother too busy to spend much time with them and her normally cheerful father cranky. Her attempts to help don't always go so well; he doesn't appreciate her schemes to stop him from smoking, and her entrepreneurial spirit lands her in a spectacular mess. But through it all, they persevere, with her dad finding work in the end. Meanwhile, a chapter involving Ramona's unusual role in a Christmas pageant makes a great stand-alone story for December.

Ramona and Her Mother - This book is largely concerned with Ramona's relationship with Howie's little sister Willa Jean, who exhibits many of the same traits Ramona did a few short years ago. Seeing Willa Jean's rambunctious behavior encourages her to be more grown-up. At the same time, she is better able to empathize with her than many because she knows where she is coming from. The Quimbys' work situation is what necessitates her spending so much time with the Kemps, and she doesn't like it, especially when her attempts to entertain Willa Jean are horribly misconstrued. She also hates the fact that her mother seems to appreciate Beezus more than her. However, she comes to understand the stresses upon her mother, bringing them closer together.

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - It's time for a new school year yet again, and Ramona likes Mrs. Whaley better than any other teacher since Miss Binney. She's a jovial woman who likes the students to have fun with class assignments, as demonstrated toward the end of the book when she responds with delight to Ramona's creative presentation of a book report. Meanwhile, Ramona learns the importance of not jumping to conclusions, especially when overhearing something, after she misunderstands something Mrs. Whaley says. The book also deals with the ups and downs of staying home sick from school, the importance of being respectful when someone prepares a meal for you, and it ends with a sweet demonstration of the family's love for each other, despite the bumpy moments.

Ramona Forever - It's a year of big changes in Ramona's life as her aunt prepares to marry Howie's eccentric uncle, bringing the two families even closer together. Ramona has her doubts about Uncle Hobart at first but ultimately comes to see him as a kindred spirit. Meanwhile, a particularly nasty feud between Beezus and Ramona ends in reconciliation when they discover their ancient cat has died and take it upon themselves to bury him so that their parents will be spared the trouble. One of the sweetest and saddest chapters in the Ramona series, it aptly demonstrates how far Ramona has come, and it sets the stage for the revelation of another major milestone: the impending birth of Ramona's baby sister.

Ramona's World - This installment came a full 15 years later, and it picks up with Ramona in fourth grade. Her teacher, Mrs. Meacham, tries to convince Ramona to work on her spelling, which frustrates her. However, the new school year also brings a new student, Daisy Kidd, who quickly becomes Ramona's best friend, though she remains friends with Howie. Ramona must also adjust to life as an older sister, while her own older sister tries to cope with high school. The book ends with Ramona's tenth birthday party, and Ramona's ability to empathize with her longtime rival Susan after an upsetting incident shows that she really is far removed from that pest of early days. Since this book was published more than a decade ago and Cleary is well into her 90s, it seems likely that it will stand as the final installment in the series, but she's left Ramona and her family in a good place, older and wiser, presumably just like the kids who have read through the series.


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