Sunday, April 12, 2009

Drop Everything and Read (aka Sustained Silent Reading)

Jen Robinson has reminded us that today is official DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) Day, in honor of Beverly Cleary, who is, I think, an amazing 93 years old today. (That's good Oregon pioneer stock for you.) For those who haven't picked up a Ramona book in too long, you may remember that DEAR was the daily silent reading time Ramona got to enjoy in Ramona Quimby, Age 8, although she preferred the more grownup name of "Sustained Silent Reading".

I'd thought that in honor of Beverly Cleary, I'd use this post to highlight a few of my favorite Cleary books--but when it came down to it, I simply couldn't decide which ones. Would I treat you all to my dissertative "Sister of the Bride as Feminist Treatise"? Marvel about how well Cleary, an only child, could write about sisters? Reminisce about my childhood longing to play Brick Factory? Tell about how I dreaded having to read all of Dear Mr. Henshaw for my Newbery Project, but ended up loving it? Attempt to convince my friends one more time that Jean and Johnny is one of her masterpieces, and the only reason they don't like it is because it hits too close to home and makes them uneasy?

Not long ago, my aunt told me, "When I first read Ellen Tebbits I felt like it had been written especially for me." Well, I was no Ellen Tebbits--I would have been the girl with the sloppy dress, not the bright, crisp sash--but Ramona was very comforting to me when I was a kid. I felt that we were misunderstood together.

I love three of Cleary's four teenage novels (I can't really stomach Fifteen), and I sometimes wonder if Ramona grew up to be one of those girls. She must have. Do you think Ramona was a Shelley or a Barbara or a Jean or a Jane? It's an interesting idea, but it's hard for me to imagine Ramona grown up; I don't want to think of her spirit stifled. Perhaps she grew up to be Winona Root from the Betsy-Tacy books.

Of those four teenage characters, which one do you think is most like a teenaged Ramona? Were you, yourself, a Ramona or a Beezus?

A final note: anyone who visited my college dorm rooms was bewildered and/or amused by my bookshelves (even though people frequently borrowed things like Madeleine L'Engle and commented on other childhood favorites they saw there). No title created greater amusement more consistently than Beverly Cleary's The Luckiest Girl. Forget the title, forget the silly covers; it's a very fine book, and if you've never gotten around to reading it, do it now.


Jennifer said...

Hmmm... this is a great question!
Ramona was no Jean-she would've figured Johnny out and told him off right off. I believe she was Betsy in the Betsy Tacy books. Which character was in Sister of the Bride? that could've been Ramona if Beezus got married to Henry Huggins or Jeremy Kidd.
I weighed in on Mrs. Cleary here:

Elizabeth said...

I'm so with you on loving Jean and Johnny. I think it's a great book.

But I agree with Jennifer that Ramona was no Jean!

I don't think I've read any of Cleary's other books for teenagers. Although of all children's books, Ramona may have the most special place in my heart.

Kelly said...

I dislike Jean and Johnny with every fiber of my being, and I have always known it is because it hits too close to home.

On the other hand, I love Fifteen, and it has been one of my favorite books since my own "Aunt Beatrice" gave me a copy when I was ten or so.

I don't know that I can picture Ramona as any of those girls -- they are so much women of their times, and Ramona is a more modern girl. I suppose my pick would be Barbara.

Wendy said...

I guess there's a big jump in the Ramona series--the Ramona of Beezus and Ramona and Ramona the Pest is quite a bit more historical than in Ramona the Brave and forward. I see what you mean about her seeming more modern.

It's funny--thinking about it, I'm pretty sure that Barbara (that's Sister of the Bride, Jennifer) is the least autobiographical of the four teen characters--and I think Ramona is pretty autobiographical, if exaggerated--but now that you and Jennifer mention it, I can see Ramona growing up to be Barbara more than the others. She would totally keep her beloved stuffed animals well into high school. She has the same sense of the Rightness of things (whether it means not eating cold beans out of the can, or not wearing a suit when you get married). And Ramona would, ultimately, be more interested in having fun at sixteen than in falling deeply in love and getting married. Would also iron her skirt while she was still wearing it. Yes, indeed.

Elizabeth said...

Kelly: I know what you mean about books that hit too close to home. This is why I love books with obnoxiously opinionated characters... except for when the point is that that's, you know, obnoxious.

Wendy: "Would also iron her skirt while she was still wearing it" -- speaking of things that hit close to home...