I don’t think book blogs have to always review brand new books. Sometimes it’s great to read all-time children’s book classics. Reading Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Pest (1968, Yearling) as an adult brought me just as much joy as when I read (I’m pretty sure I read it) it as a kid.
Sister to Beezus, Ramona Quimby cannot wait to go to kindergarten. And Ramona absolutely loves her new teacher Miss Binney and practicing her fancy Qs. Readers are privy to Ramona’s adventures with missing teeth, Halloween costumes, muddy boots, and temper tantrums. Like so many of us, Ramona just wants to be understood, but when she pulls her classmate Susan’s curls one last time, Ramona becomes a kindergarten dropout. It’s up to Ramona to decide when she will return to the kindergarten.
What I LOVE about Ramona the Pest is Cleary’s narrative voice. There is such a wonderful narrative style in the book, and the narrator refuses to condemn Ramona’s energy and imaginative ways. Though Ramona does not tell the story herself, the narrator is quite in tune with her emotions and internal dialogue. There are some great moments when the narrator reveals Ramona feels sorry for adults (e.g. when she feels bad that her substitute does not know about Qs).
Cleary has the ability to capture perfectly the reality of a young girl (and a bit of a pest) who one day is just an excited kid who wants to attend kindergarten and then another day is a troublemaker who annoys pulls her classmate’s hair or kisses her classmate through her ugly Halloween mask. We love Ramona because she’s not perfect. She doesn’t want to be bad; she just wants to be understood. And we can all relate to that.
Even though I found myself shaking my head at Ramona’s antics, I could not feel anything but love and adoration for her. She is such an endearing and timeless character. If we weren’t Ramona ourselves, we definitely knew (or know) a Ramona. The greatest testament to Ramona the Pest is that it is just as relevant today as it was when it was written almost fifty years ago.
I attended a discussion between Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han at Flyleaf Books when I lived in Chapel Hill. They talked about the decisions authors make to use contemporary technologies (e.g. cell phones, text messages, etc.). They discussed the realities of YA books perhaps not being as timeless if characters use the technology trends of the time. This comment always stuck with me, especially when I think about why books written decades ago are so relevant today.
Another testament to Cleary’s Ramona the Pest is that contemporary authors are writing modern-day versions. I just read Abby Hanlon’s Dory Fantasmagory, which is a great companion text for Ramona the Pest. And what do they always say? Imitation is the greatest compliment.
If your kids or students are reading Ramona the Pest, one fun activity to have them do is analyze how the cover has changed over the years. Here are some examples:
Let me know what you or your kids or students think about Ramona the Pest in the comments below!