Most of us are a little bit Ramona Quimby inside.
This week I was delighted to learn author Beverly Cleary celebrated her 100th birthday. According to this Washington Post interview, Cleary commented she was commemorating her 100th in a “low-key” manner, “with a celebratory slice of carrot cake, she says, ‘because I like it.'”
Growing-up, Ramona Quimby was the perfect literary best friend. She did well-meaning things that made adults upset. She was curious and sometimes did silly things for attention. So did I.
My Ramona books were hand-me-downs from my cousins. They were illustrated with awkward, earnest sketches. I prefer these to the new ones, but I’m probably biased. I read them over and over again, rotating them with my other favorite books about adventurous little girls: Matilda, Betsy, Tacy & Tib, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Pippi Longstocking. Ramona was my favorite, though. I could identify with her the most. The things she did made perfect sense. Get pissed at mom and dad? Squeeze an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink. Love your new pajamas? Wear them underneath your clothes at school and get so hot that you have a physical meltdown. Can’t say I ever did these things, but, as a child, I totally understood her reasoning.
Ramona wanted to fit in and so did I. There’s this one scene in Ramona Quimby Age 8 (here’s the cover I grew-up with) where Ramona cracks a raw egg on her head in the school cafeteria. Why an egg? All of the popular kids at school had been bringing hard-boiled eggs for lunch and cracking them open on one’s head was just the cool thing to do. Unfortunately, Ramona’s mom forgot to cook this particular egg. Egg in hair, she ends up in the school nurse’s office to get her hair cleaned and overhears her teacher call her a nuisance. This makes her feel crushed.
When I was the same age, I thought it would be really fun to participate in a classroom bubble gum blowing contest. It was a silly contest, but I was determined to win. While my classmates gave a valiant effort, I persevered until I blew a monster bubble the size of my face. Inevitably it popped. I may have won the contest but couldn’t remove the ghost of my victory bubble from my face. A nice teacher sat me down in the corner of the classroom where she tried to remove the bubble gum with hand lotion. It sort of worked and I felt very embarrassed. This seemed like something Ramona would do and so I felt a little better.
A lot has changed in Beverly Cleary’s 100 years. Children’s lives seem really scheduled-out and they have lots of homework. Chalkboards became white boards which became smart boards. What hasn’t changed, though, are the struggles one experiences growing-up, beginning in childhood and extending into adulthood. It wasn’t easy then, and it isn’t easy now.
Ramona taught me that it’s normal to feel misunderstood, embarrassed, awkward, and left-out. And now, looking back, Ramona’s parents taught me that it’s OK for adults to feel tired after work, cross with their significant other, and have a difficult time coping with tough job stuff. Big life lessons packed in small books with humor and heart.
Cheers and gratitude to Beverly Cleary for creating a literary best friend who “got” us.