Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Pest (1968)
Illus. Louis Darling
Readers first catch a glimpse of Ramona Quimby when she is very small, in the Henry Huggins series, but her first main appearance is in Beezus and Ramona.
I was not, however, a Beezus fan. I was a Ramona fan. I read Beezus and Ramona, but I re-read Ramona the Pest until I could recite passages of it by heart.
Ramona starts kindergarten in Ramona the Pest. When she is finally able to walk there alone with Howie (without her mom and without Howie’s mom), it’s Henry Huggins who helps her cross the street.
Henry is the crossing guard. “She had known Henry and his dog Ribsy as long as she could remember, and she admired Henry because not only was he a traffic boy, he also delivered papers.”
I felt like I’d known Ramona forever. And I admired her because she was equal parts woefully mistaken and brilliantly superior.
Ramona has a strong sense of ethics. She knows how things should be done.
But of course, she knows like a five-year-old girl, always fiercely and often wrongly.
From the opening scene, day one of kindergarten, when she obediently sits exactly where her teacher Miss Binney tells her to sit “for the present” (which Ramona understands to be a promise for a gift rather than it’s meaning “for now”), to the final scene in which Ramona takes defiance to the limit and becomes a kindergarten dropout, Beverly Cleary captures the bizarre sense of certainty and insecurity of this age.
Sometimes Ramona can be quietly and solidly assured.
She doesn’t need to explain to her substitute teacher that what Mrs. Wilcox sees as a series of cats is really a line-up of Ramona’s special Q’s, complete with ears and whiskers and a tail. Instead she keeps her knowledge to herself and puts Mrs. Wilcox decidedly on the side of the “Grown Ups Who Don’t Get It” line.
Sometimes she is noisily and boldly assured.
“Ramona discovered dear little Davy in a skimpy pirate costume from the dime store. She could tell he was Davy by his thin legs. At last! She pounced and kissed him through her rubber mask. Davy looked startled, but he had the presence of mind to make a gagging noise while Ramona raced away, satisfied that she finally had managed to catch and kiss Davy.”
(Sorry: I know this is a spoiler, and I usually do try to avoid those.)
Sometimes Ramona is needy and vulnerable.
“Miss Binney’s words were too much for Ramona. After all the times she had been forced to wear Howie’s ugly old brown boots she could not leave her beautiful new red boots out in the mud to fill up with rainwater. “I want my boots,” she howled, and began to cry again.
Sometimes…it’s true…she is a pest.
“People who called her a pest did not understand that a littler person sometimes had to be a little bit noisier and a little bit more stubborn in order to be noticed at all.”
It’s hard to know now, for sure. Looking back on how much I loved this book as a girl.
But I think I loved it then for the same reasons that I still enjoyed reading it this week.
Sometimes Ramona was wrong. Sometimes the grown-ups were wrong. But it all worked out somehow.
Was Ramona a favourite pest of yours too?