Book Review: The Ramona Quimby Series
Few authors manage to convey a child’s point of view as well as Beverly Cleary does in her Ramona series. Eight books, written between 1955 and 1999, span Ramona’s life from pre-Kindergarten to Grade Four. A Ramona story for kids has staying power—two have won the Newbury Medal, and one, the U.S. National Book Award. The books unfold as Ramona navigates elementary school, lives with an older sister who is constantly annoyed with her, and attempts to understand the adult world around her.
The strength of these stories lies in their timeless characters, each of whom is entirely believable and relatable. Ramona’s parents are a loving and fun couple dealing with all the stresses of today’s parents; they juggle work, family time, and finances. Ramona’s sister is the quintessential older sister – busy with her own life, annoyed with her younger sister – and yet, often Ramona’s fiercest advocate. And the iconic Ramona, herself a courageous, imaginative, energetic, and outspoken child.
In Ramona and Her Mother, the fifth Ramona story for kids and a winner of the U.S. National Book Award, Ramona is jealous that her mother and older sister share activities, like sewing and cooking, that she is too young to do. At first, Ramona tries to sabotage these activities, but she eventually tells her mother how she is feeling, and they find their own bonding activities. Also in this book, Ramona’s parents have several arguments. Ramona worries they might divorce, but her parents reassure her that every family has disagreements from time to time and that they are very happy.
Ramona Quimby, Age 8, winner of the Newbury Medal, focuses on Ramona starting a new school. On one of her first days, she accidentally makes a big mess and overhears one of the teachers say, “What a nuisance!” Ramona understands this to mean that she is a nuisance and vows not cause any more trouble. A few days later, when Ramona feels ill in class, she doesn’t tell her teacher so as not to be a nuisance again. After she vomits in class, she must explain why she didn’t alert the teacher to her nausea, and the entire misunderstanding is resolved.
Ramona’s stories are told with humor and remarkable empathy. The original story may have been first published sixty years ago, but there is a reason for the character’s longevity: Children of any era can relate to Ramona’s worries, confusion, frustrations, and occasional over-excitement; their parents can relate to the everyday stress of managing children, work, and a home. Difficult topics – such as the death of a pet, or divorce – come up occasionally, but they are handled tactfully and compassionately. Parents can use these chapters to prompt difficult conversations with kids.
The Ramona series is perfect to read aloud with a seven- or eight-year-old, or for a nine- or ten-year-old to read alone, and can be purchased online here.