Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and Her Father (1975)
Illus. Alan Tiegreen

It’s September and Ramona is in the second grade, sitting at the kitchen table, making her list of what she wants for Christmas.

She’s all about looking ahead. Not just ahead to Christmas, but ahead to the treat that she will likely get when her father gets home.

It’s payday for her father, which means the girls will likely get something fun. Maybe a book for her older sister Beezus and some coloured paper for Ramona. Maybe dinner out for the whole family at Whopperburger.

And, when her father gets home, there is a treat: candy.

But there is also some bad news.

The company her father has been working for has been bought by a larger company and all of the workers have been fired.

Tensions run high in the Quimby household.

Her mother is exhausted by the new full-time job she’s taken (and although Mr. Quimby isn’t afraid to get down on the floor and colour, he’s still not much for cooking, so some household chores add further to Ramona’s mothers workload).

Beezus is at a “difficult age” (she’s in the seventh grade and seems grumpy all the time).

Picky-picky, the yellow family cat, hates the cheap food he gets served to him on the new budget.

And, of course, Mr. Quimby is out of work, with all the nastiness that state entails. And, on top of everything else, Beezus is attacking his smoking habit. And, because she’s at this  “difficult age”, she makes her objections known loudly and repeatedly.

This goes on for months. It wears on everybody, Ramona included.

“Instead of running or skipping, she trudged. Nothing was much fun anymore when her family quarreled and then was silent at breakfast and her father’s lungs were turning black from smoke.”

But amidst the struggle, there are shining moments.

“For some reason, Mr. Quimby smiled. “I have news for you, Ramona,” he said. “We are a happy family.”
“We are?” Ramona was skeptical.
“Yes, we are.” Mr. Quimby was positive. “No family is perfect. Get that idea out of your head. And nobody is perfect either. All we can do is work at it. And we do.”

But this is no Pollyanna-story. Ramona has had to accept certain realities, but her father’s unemployment impacts her in unexpected ways.

She fights, she protests, she demands, she resists. Things get ugly.

“Ramona’s eye caught the reflection of her face distorted in a green Christmas ornament. She was shocked to see her nose look so huge, her mouth and red-rimmed eyes tiny. I can’t really look like that, thought Ramona in despair. I’m really a nice person. It’s just that nobody understands.”

And, I have to say, the illustration which accompanies this realization of Ramona’s is priceless. (When I was gathering copies of the later Ramona books from the library recently, I saw that they have been reissued a few times since my own copies were published, but I purposely borrowed copies with Alan Tiegreen’s drawings.)

There is a tiny square of paper tucked inside the cover of my copy of Ramona and Her Father, marked Read, with the date. I was twelve years old. I should have been reading about Beezus, leaving aside such childish re-reads, but I still loved Ramona.

Likely, at twelve, I still felt just as misunderstood as that second grader. And something about this tale still rings true today.

Did you obsessively track your reading even as a child? Return to books that were “too young” for you?