I don’t remember the first time I encountered Ramona Quimby. My mom read me one of Beverly Cleary’s books when I was probably five or six—so long ago, Ramona has always been a part of my consciousness. Why? Because, though I didn’t know how to phrase it that way, I knew from the start that Ramona and I were kindred spirits.
Stubborn, curious, eager-to-please, accident-prone, imaginative, and determined—you could use any of those words to describe Ramona Quimby. And me. By the time I could read chapter books by myself, I’d heard most of the Ramona books already, read aloud by Mom. And the Henry Huggins books, and the Ralph S. Mouse books. I checked them out of the library repeatedly throughout my childhood, but it was Ramona I returned to the oftenest.
In Ramona, I recognized a fellow struggler. We both desperately wanted grown-ups to take us seriously. But at the same time, we both cherished the freedom of childhood. And we both found ourselves in the middle of big messes without knowing how or why our ideas dissolved into chaos.
Eventually, I left the Ramona books behind as I moved toward adulthood myself. But I carried the memory of our fictional friendship. And I gradually bought every one of the Ramona and Henry and Ralph books whenever I encountered them at thrift stores and yard sales, planning for when I had children of my own.
And then, one day, my three kids and I were at the library together, preparing for an 8-hour car ride to go see my parents. I wanted to find some audio books to entertain them for those long hours. And I saw several Ramona books on the shelf. I pulled one out and saw Stockard Channing was the reader—I immediately knew she’d be perfect for spunky, insistent Ramona’s stories, and we grabbed two or three books from the shelf.
Listening to those audio books on the way to Grandpa and Grammy’s became almost a ritual. Every trip after that, for three years, we always got a Ramona book or two to enjoy. We listened to the Henry Huggins books too, which other people narrate. And we listened to many other books by other authors. But again and again, we checked out Ramona. My children found them funny and entertaining. I found them an endless source of nostalgia and joy.
Hearing about all of Ramona’s adventures and mishaps brought back tangible memories of my childhood. It brought back not just mental memories, but the way it actually felt inside to be a child.
As a kid, I simply recognized Ramona as being a lot like me. But as an adult author now, I recognize Beverly Cleary’s absolute genius. She captured the essence of how children think and feel and behave, the way they spend so much time trying to understand why adults behave the way they do. I write YA books, and I spend a lot of time and energy to try to portray teens and young adults in realistic ways. So I don’t just love the Ramona books for Ramona herself anymore, but for the beauty and excellence of the writing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Kovaciny’s western fairy tale retelling novels “Cloaked” and “Dancing & Doughnuts” are now available in paperback and Kindle editions. Learn more about her at her author website, rachelkovaciny.com