I don’t usually split book series into different entries but once I starting writing, I ended up with a VERY long article. It became clear that a series this iconic is worthy of not just two, but three separate entries! So with no further ado, let’s jump in.
You don’t have to scour the library or Amazon to find the latest and greatest new series or character to satisfy the young reader in your life. Sometimes it makes sense to go back to your own childhood and in some cases, even further back to find stories that they’ll love. The classics may not always age perfectly but themes often remain very relatable throughout generations. That is certainly true in the case of the Ramona collection of books by Beverly Cleary. Though born of a different time, the exasperation of older sister Beezus certainly still resonates with put upon older siblings and younger siblings will relate to the feisty Ramona.
The collection’s writing spans 40 years, with Ramona first being referenced in Cleary’s Henry Huggins series as a bit of a throwaway character. Cleary had realized that all of the characters she’d created so far had been only children. This was certainly not common in the 1950s so she decided that someone needed a sibling. She chose to make Beezus an older sister whose strange nickname was a result of a younger child’s inability to say ‘Beatrice’. She heard someone outside call for a child named Ramona and thus, a legend was born.
Cleary then put the Quimby sisters on the shelf until she wrapped up the Henry Huggins series. She revisits the sisters’ relationship in 1955’s Beezus and Ramona, the only book in the series to be written from Beezus’s point of view. She struggles with her conflicting feelings towards her younger sister, as she feels that Ramona’s only reason for existence is to ruin her life. And it’s true – Ramona destroys a library book, locks Henry’s dog in the bathroom and interrupts Beezus’s art class.
It’s more like a constant stream of small annoyances than major catastrophes but I think we can all relate to how infuriating those can be, not to mention how important everything feels when you’re young. By the end of the book, Beezus comes to the realization that though she loves her little sister, she doesn’t always like her. If that’s not relatable, then I don’t know what is!
Both sisters then re-emerge in 1968’s Ramona the Pest, where Ramona is a kindergartener in Miss Binney’s class. She really likes Miss Binney but she struggles with ‘seat work’, where the children are expected to work quietly at their desks. She’s also very distracted by a classmate named Susan who has corkscrew curly hair. She can’t help but imagine pulling one of the curls and letting it go to see it snap back into place.
When Susan calls her a pest, Ramona gets her revenge by acting on her hair pulling fantasy. When she’s sent home until she can behave, Ramona is sure her teacher hates her. It’s only when she gets a special letter from her teacher that she realizes she was wrong about how Mrs. Binney feels about her. Younger children will relate to Ramona’s misunderstanding of adult behaviors and how easy it is to feel that someone no longer likes you after even the smallest infraction.
It takes seven years to receive a follow-up story but Ramona the Brave brings the plucky heroine back onto the radar in 1975. Ramona believes she’s always courageous but she’s surprised to learn that not everyone sees her that way. When she defends Beezus against some rude boys teasing her about her nickname, she’s shocked that her sister sees HER as the offending party, rather than the boys!
She’s experiencing lots of life changes during this time: she’s getting ready to start first grade, her mother has started a part-time job after being home for Ramona’s whole life and the Quimby family is adding an extra bedroom onto their house. The sisters are supposed to share the new bedroom, each using it for 6 months at a time. Ramona is the first to get the room to herself and is surprised to discover that she’s actually scared to sleep alone in the new bedroom. She thought she would be excited for the independence. Maybe she’s not as brave as she thought?
These three books are great choices for readers in the 7-8 year old age range who may be starting to flex their independence. It opens a dialogue about what it feels like to be moving from the stage of a ‘little kid’ into that of a ‘kid-kid’ and the challenges that come along with that growth. The books also help readers to understand that they don’t always have to be brave and how to can ask for help when needed.