Friday, 28 August 2009

Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary

Do you remember how it felt to be a young child? Do you remember your first day in Grade One?

When asked about good books that we should get for the SRR, one of the other teachers suggested the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary.

Now, Beverly Cleary was a popular writer of children's books when I was a boy. Of course that means her stuff is pretty old, so I was skeptical. I wasn't sure if anybody would read them.

Okay, confession time. When I was younger, I was a bit of a reluctant reader. I know, it's hard to believe, but it's true. I didn't read many books for fun.

As a child, I loved Dr Seuss books. I remember visiting a friend's house and leafing through her entire collection and I remember being hypnotized by them all. After that, I got into books about kids who had horses and went on adventures. Later, in high school, I read a number of books that qualified as "literature" and I was pretty keen on all the ideas that the books gave me.

However, I rarely read stories just for the pure fun. Looking back now, I think it is because I was never really introduced to all the great books that were out there so I didn't know what to read. And, as I've said before, I think the writers of books for young people are much better these days than they were when I was a kid.

Anyway, I DO remember one book that I read and enjoyed as a boy and it was "Henry and the Paper Route" by Beverly Cleary. I can't even remember why I enjoyed it. I just remember thinking that Beverly Cleary was awesome and that she was going to be my "favourite author" - not that anybody knew, or cared to ask.

Yesterday I thought I'd give Ramona the Brave a few pages and see what it was like. Well, I read it from cover to cover and then went on to read a second book. Ramona the Brave is pretty fascinating. I was so impressed by Cleary's ability to get into the heads and hearts of young children. Her story captures how it felt to be in first grade. All the feelings and thoughts and anxieties of childhood came rushing back to me yesterday. It was so amazing to remember what that was like.

The main character, Ramona, is interesting because she tries so hard to be good, but things happen and she just keeps getting into trouble. I like her older sister too. She gives her little sister a hard time and doesn't enjoy being around her that much, but just when Ramona is at the end of her rope, her big sister will say something that turns everything around and makes it okay again. I thought that was so cool and heartwarming. The mother, also, surprises Ramona with her kindness. She feels like her mother prefers her older sister and there are times when she gets shocked by her mother's reactions to things that are developing.

I can't wait to read "Ramona and Her Father". In the two books I've read, the father seems like a really nice guy (kinda cool) and everybody says Ramona is "her father's daughter" like she and her father have a magical connection or something. I'm eager to read more about their relationship and to see more of how the father and daughter interact.

Cleary was born in 1916 and just died a few years ago (in 2004). That means she lived through WWII and was writing during the 1950's and 60's in America a time that the modern notion of the "traditional family in America" comes from. Dads went to work and Moms stayed at home and baked apple pies. You get the idea. Anyway, Cleary's narrative captures that innocent time. Interestingly though, Ramona's mother starts working in Ramona the Brave and her father is out of work and has gone back to university in Ramona Forever. I guess Cleary's work was heralding a change in American society at the time.

Anyway, Cleary is a master storyteller. I love the way she uses language and I'm amazed at how well she captured the thoughts and feelings of her main character. I really enjoyed the trip she took me on - back to those first days of school when I was just a little blonde-haired, freckle-faced boy walking three blocks from my home to elementary school. Cleary's work is sweet, funny, and heart-warming. I'm going to order a few more and I hope some of you will read and enjoy them as much as I did.

BTW, two years ago HarperCollins published a new set of Cleary's books. They've modernized the cover art and even made a nice collection box for the set. I'm so glad to see publishers breathing new life into great books like these. Good job HarperCollins!

4/5 stars - well worth reading if you'd like to relive your childhood!

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