Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Ramona books, by Beverly Cleary

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Back in November, I wrote about the deep and simple pleasures of reading aloud. The tradition continues in our home, and this time, we read three of the Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary -- Beezus and Ramona, Ramona the Pest, and Ramona the Brave.

These books formed a crux of my childhood reading. Goodness knows how many times I checked each of them out from the elementary school library and gaped at the inevitable disasters that are a young girl's attempts to navigate the world. I thought I didn't remember anything that happened in these stories, though I did recall the vicarious thrill of getting into and out of trouble with good ol' Ramona Q.

Turns out, I remembered much more than I ever gave my mind credit for. These books had lodged themselves in the deep shelves of my mind, and with first-grade delight I recalled most of what was about to happen just before it happened. They evoked for me the incredible and rare experience of re-discovery -- in book terms, those cherished stories that you enjoy re-reading, not simply for the familiar comforts of a good yarn, but for that reiterated thrill that never quite diminishes.

Perhaps part of this thrill comes from how I read Ramona now that I am one of those adults who populate her world (seriously, I'm now older than her kindergarten teacher). You see, Cleary gets a lot of credit for not talking down to children, and I recognized many of Ramona's struggles in my own adult-level existence. For me, Ramona's adventures circle around her need to sort out her identity in life -- how to write her name, how her peers and her elders perceive her, how she wants to be perceived, and how she wants to behave within her own sphere when no one at all is looking.

Those aren't issues that go away no matter how well we resolve them as children. (Well, maybe except for the name-writing ones, but I for one have contemplated revising my signature at several points.) I doubt even the happiest and most self-assured among us never ask themselves questions about their own identities. Who we are is perhaps less important on a practical level than who we think we are, and who other people believe us to be.

Maybe, just maybe, Ramona Quimby helps us to be okay with our self-inflicted identity crises clear through life. Reading her stories again as an adult certainly doesn't hurt.

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