This summer I started reading the Ramona Quimby books to my boys, books I absolutely loved as a girl and had not thought to read at bedtime, yet. I could not remember what order they were supposed to go in, whether Ramona and her Mother came before or after Ramona and Beezus or Ramona Quimby, Age 8. I lucked out and picked Ramona, the Brave in which she is six and about to begin the first grade. Perfect for my five-year-old who is nervous about starting kindergarten, and my seven-year-old who has just finished that school year.
Oh my goodness, thank you Beverly Cleary! Thank you for remembering so clearly what it was like to be a young child, one who feels insecure when she says something her parents think is funny or who cannot decide which is worse, a tattletale or a copycat and that being the girl who scrunches up someone else’s paper owl is worse than either. I don’t know if you have ever read this book, or if you remember it well if you have. In one chapter Ramona, who is already feeling terribly misunderstood, has worked very hard to make a really lovely paper bag owl for Parent’s Night. The girl in the desk next to her copied every detail of Ramona’s, owl making Ramona angrier and angrier. She tries to shield her owl from the copycat but only succeeds in hiding it from her teacher. The other girl is praised for her lovely, wise owl. Ramona scrunches her owl into a tight ball. My boys literally gasped when I read that part out loud.
A week later in the story, when Parent’s Night rolls around, when the girl who copied draws attention to the fact that Ramona does not have an owl to display, when Ramona has to lie to her teacher that she, “Does not care for owls,” even though she does very much, Ramona’s feelings boil over and she destroys the other girl’s owl and runs home. My boys cried. They felt absolutely horrible for her. And for themselves, I suspect. There is an all too real possibility that something like this could happen to them, that they might get so upset that they would do something they know they shouldn’t. That they might feel like they aren’t good kids, or that no one understands, or that they might be even more upset with themselves for doing this naughty thing than any teacher or parent could be. And they get to see Ramona come to terms with this awful thing she has done, and that she is not a thoroughly rotten person for doing this one thing. We cried and we talked about it, I told them about times I had gotten in trouble in school and how it felt. That it was normal to feel all of the things Ramona was feeling.
I guess books like this are why, though I appreciate fairy tales and superheroes, Jurassic Park and The Lord of the Rings I am more in love with stories that feel real and may look small on the outside. Those small, real stories do not feel small when you are in them, when you live them. Those stories, short on special effects, show great respect for ordinary moments and the experiences of real people. My boy’s reaction to Ramona crushing her own, then someone else’s owl was stronger than their reaction to the ending of almost any Disney movie. And that made me happy.