"'I am not a pest,' Ramona Quimby told her big sister Beezus" in the opening line of Beverly Cleary's Ramona the Pest, a line that I frequently repeated throughout grade school myself. Sharing the same first name with Ramona Quimby ensured that I would be addressed as "Ramona the Pest"on a regular basis, and, while I found the persistence of the moniker irritating at times, I was also secretly proud of sharing the name of a famous literary character. In fact, I loved all of Beverly Cleary's characters, like Henry Huggins, Otis Spofford, Ellen Tebbits, Leigh Botts, and Ralph S. Mouse, but Ramona, with her exuberance, her love of mess and noise, and her propensity for landing herself in awkward situations, had a special place in my heart.
Beezus and Ramona, the first of the eight books in the Ramona series, was published in 1955. In this book, Beezus, Ramona's sensible older sister, relates four-year old Ramona's numerous escapades and idiosyncrasies. Both exasperated and mortified, Beezus describes Ramona's habit of wearing rabbit ears outside of the house and the birthday cake that she ruins by pretending to be Gretel (of the Hansel and Gretel fame) and putting her doll Bendix, playing the character of the witch, into the oven. In the remaining seven books released over a 44 year period, which take Ramona from kindergarten through fourth grade, Ramona narrates her own experiences as she "boings" perfect Susan's curls once too often in the 1968 Ramona the Pest, she is cast as a sheep in the Christmas pageant in the 1977 Ramona and Her Father, and she falls through the unfinished ceiling of her best friend's attic in the latest book Ramona's World, published in 1999, to recall just a few of her adventures. Ramona's creator, Beverly Cleary, has won numerous awards for her contributions to children's literature, including the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award and the 1984 John Newberry Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw. Ramona and Her Father and Ramona Quimby, Age 8 were also Newberry Honor Books in 1978 and 1982 respectively.
Despite the success of the Ramona books, however, the creation of the series was never intentional. As Cleary relates in an interview, she created Ramona, a little sister for Beezus, because she was concerned that none of the characters in the Henry Huggins books appeared to have siblings. She reports, Ramona "has continued to grow in the books, somewhat to my surprise. I hadn't really intended to write so much about her, but there she was. She kept hanging around, and I kept having Ramona ideas." And, over the last 50 years, millions of children have been very glad that she did, including this Ramona.
Cleary, Beverly. Ramona the Pest. New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1968.
"Talking with Beverly Cleary." 8 March 2005. http://www.beverlycleary.com/teaching/talkingwith.html
Copyright 2005© Ramona Caponegro
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