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Well-known and beloved children's book series by Beverly Cleary about a girl named Ramona Quimby, whose age ranges from 4 to 10 as we see different years of her life.
The books are famous for their excellent and light-hearted mixture of believable real-life situations, humor, and personality.
Part of what makes the books work so well is the portrayal of various events that are a huge deal to a child, but which are normally overlooked by adult eyes. For example, in Ramona the Brave, the first grade class has to make owls using paper bags, glue, and several other things. Ramona notices that Susan, who she doesn't get along with in the first place, is copying all of Ramona's attempts at originality. When Susan's owl gets praise from the teacher for being original, Ramona, in fear that she will be considered the copycat rather than Susan, tears up her own owl, then later, Susan's, and stomps out of the classroom and runs home in tears.
That's the sort of event that many adults would see as simply a little kid being overdramatic about some little thing, but the way the story tells it from Ramona's eyes (in third-person limited), we understand her pain, her hurt at having been copied by the kid sitting next to her, and her fear of being mistakenly thought to be the copycat herself. And of course, her rage at being made to apologize and at Susan's smug look, so we can't help but relate (and yet also, as adults, cringe) when Ramona follows up the apology with a whispered insult.
There's plenty of light humor as well. Some of Ramona's behaviors and solutions to problems are a little odd or occasionally bizarre to an adult, but make perfect sense from her point of view. For example, also in Ramona the Brave, Ramona tries to fight a scary dog by throwing her shoe at it; the dog promptly steals and runs off with said shoe. Ramona tries to hide her socked foot in class, then later decides to create a makeshift slipper out of paper towels stapled together in a slipper shape and use that as a substitute. Cute, funny stuff from an adult (or older kid) perspective, and an excellent example of why these books have so many adults as a Periphery Demographic.
Even as Ramona ages throughout the series, the issues she faces and the "important to kids, usually overlooked by adults" problems she deals with continue to be age-appropriate relative to her current age. In Ramona Forever, in which Ramona enters fourth grade, Ramona finds herself blamed when bratty Willa Jean, then aged 5, breaks an accordion. After all, shouldn't 9-year-old Ramona have been looking after her more closely and stopped it? Ramona soon learns in no uncertain terms that Willa Jean's lazy grandmother hates looking after kids, and doesn't like Ramona. (This time, her parents are more understanding.)
And things like that are why these books just work.
The series has been made into a short-lived TV show in Canada, simply called Ramona, which emphasized the light drama found in the books over the light humor, and is most heavily based on Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Notable in that it completely averts Dawson Casting.
A movie, titled Ramona and Beezus, has also been made.
The list of books includes:
- Beezus and Ramona (1955) - Ramona is in preschool, and the story is mostly about Beezus, who is turning nine. This is more of a bridge between the earlier Henry Huggins series and Ramona's own, as Beezus never actually had her own series but was a character in Henry's.
- Ramona the Pest (1968) - Ramona is in kindergarten. Too-perfect Susan, and poor struggling Davy, are introduced.
- Ramona the Brave (1975) - Ramona is in first grade.
- Ramona and her Father (1977) - Ramona is in second grade.
- Ramona and her Mother (1979) - Ramona is still in second grade.
- Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (1981) - Ramona is in third grade. Yard Ape, a male friend/rival, is introduced.
- Ramona Forever (1984) - Ramona is inbetween third and fourth grade, during the summer. A new baby sister, Roberta, is born.
- Ramona's World (1999) - Ramona is in fourth grade. A new female friend, Daisy, is introduced.
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 and Ramona and her Father are the two Newbery Honor books of the series. Despite being Newbery Honor, there is no Death by Newbery Medal, nor are they depressing. They are in fact the same mix of light humor and mild drama as the rest of the series. The author, Beverly Cleary, has been named a "Living Legend" by the US Library of Congress.
This series contains examples of:
- Age-Appropriate Angst: It actually is age-appropriate. Ramona's problems are all things kids her current age can relate to.
- Alpha Bitch: Although she's only mentioned, Beezus' classmate Pamela appears to be one of these.
- Susan Kushner, especially in the early books.
- Always Someone Better: Susan is pretty, sweet, and good at looking good in front of adults. Ramona envies and is jealous of her and it colors their relation for the entire run of the series. Only at the end of the final book does Susan reveal that being Little Miss Perfect is a lot of pressure and makes her feel isolated from other kids, and that she's jealous of Ramona for her ability to just be herself. This makes Ramona feel bad for her and realize she's just a kid like her.
- Americanitis: Inverted by the 1980s series which moved the setting from Portland to Southern Ontario with the serial numbers filed off.
- Annoying Younger Sibling: Beezus considers Ramona to be this. When Ramona is first introduced in Beezus and Ramona, she comes off like this to the reader, but becomes more sympathetic as time goes on and we see things from her point of view in her own series.
- Berserk Button: Ramona's is when people find her amusing when she is trying to be serious.
- Bratty Half-Pint: Willa Jean, Howie's little sister, who is four years younger than Ramona and Howie. Both Ramona and Howie can't stand her, and especially the fact that Willa Jean never seems to get in trouble for the things she does. Or the fact that Ramona is blamed when Willa Jean does something wrong, because supposedly looking after a bratty little kid is another kid's job. Ramona starts liking the girl better once she's not forced to be in charge of her all the time and even takes pride in looking out for her in the latter half of Ramona Forever.
- In the first book and possibly the second, Ramona also qualifies.
- Ramona herself was actually introduced as the Bratty Half-Pint of the Henry Huggins series. She played this role through that series, in the single book written from Beezus' point of view, and was still obviously this to some people in her first couple books.
- In the first book and possibly the second, Ramona also qualifies.
- Break the Cutie: Ramona has an instance of at least one of these in every book except Ramona's World, but the most obvious instances are in Ramona The Brave and Ramona Quimby, Age 8.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Henry Huggins wasn't so much as mentioned in Ramona's World even though he'd appeared in all the Ramona books previously and hadn't moved away or stopped being friends with Beezus or anything.
- Comic Book Time: All books take place when they were written. This means that Ramona ages from a preschooler to a fourth-grader while experiencing more than four decades. This results in some slight Anachronism Stew when it comes to social and speaking norms. For example, Ramona's World, written in 1999, when the author was in her late 70s, adds more modern speech elements such as the overuse of "stuff" in kids' dialog (e.g. "We brought snacks and stuff.") while still using the old-fashioned word "cross" to mean "angry"/"annoyed".
- Compressed Vice: Mr. Quimby has a smoking problem in Ramona and her Father. He never seemed to have that problem before, but losing his job in the first chapter might have had something to do with it. He does quit, though.
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Ramona gets pissed in Ramona the Pest when Mrs. Kemp calls her a "poor little girl" and says she's "worn out" after a difficult first day of kindergarten. She tends to go back and forth on this attitude, though; if she wants to be treated like a grownup she hates it, but when she wants people to take her side, she tries to make them feel sorry for her. (The business with Susan and the paper owl)
- The Dreaded Kids' Table: In Ramona and Her Mother, Ramona resents having to eat at the kitchen table with toddler Willa Jean while Beezus gets to eat in the living room with the adults.
- Fashion Hurts: Ramona and Beezus's shoes pinch their feet in Ramona Forever. They find a better use for them.
- Floorboard Failure: In one of the books, Ramona falls halfway through the unfinished floor of a friend's attic. She's very annoyed when she tries to tell the story at the dinner table with what she feels is an appropriate amount of drama, and her older sister interrupts, saying how easy it is to step onto the plaster and that she knows someone who fell all the way through.
- Foot Focus: Very odd usage in Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Ramona's dad is studying to become an art teacher, and has to draw a picture of his own bare foot for one of his classes. Ramona decides to pull off her shoe and sock and does the same. She later thinks about how great it would be if her dad's drawing of a foot gets hung up on a refrigerator like proud parents do to their kids' drawings. Sort of a "mental" foot focus!
- Full Name Ultimatum: Ramona knows she's in big trouble when she's called either "Ramona Geraldine Quimby" or "Young Lady".
- Hidden Depths: Some characters introduced in early books reveal additional depth in later books, giving insight into why they are the way they are. Davy, The Woobie who Ramona takes pity on in kindergarten? His parents divorce (it's mentioned in the background) when he's in second grade, implying that maybe his school troubles were related to home troubles. Susan, the spoiled too-perfect girl who Ramona at first likes for her pretty curls, but gradually starts to not be able to stand due to her bossiness and constant tattling? She has a breakdown in fourth grade about having "to be perfect all the time".
- And, indeed, the Ramona series itself was a spin-off from the Henry Huggins books, which focused around Beezus'(implied) boyfriend Henry and his adventures with his dog Ribsy. Ramona, in contrast, was rarely the focus of any scene and was more of a nuisance than anything.
- Hypocritical Heartwarming: Beezus displays this towards Ramona on several occasions, especially in the earlier books.
- Killed Off for Real: Picky-Picky in Ramona Forever.
- He died quietly of old age. The girls bury him in the back yard and share memories of him.
- L Is for Dyslexia: Although it's never mentioned by name or even diagnosed, Ramona's classmate Davy clearly has this.
- Locked Out of the Loop: Ramona feels upset that no one told her about Aunt Bea marrying Howie's uncle.
- Lost Wedding Ring: In Ramona Forever, the wedding ring gets lost because it was stitched to the pillow it was carried on too tightly, and when the bride pulls it loose, it flies into the air and gets lost. Ramona eventually finds it on the heel of the bride's shoe.
- Middle Child Syndrome: Ramona, ironically before Roberta is born. She feels that her parents treat her like a baby or an afterthought compared to big sister Beezus, who acts like she's more mature than she is. On the other hand, she's expected to practically babysit little Willa Jean, whose grandmother lets her get away with all kinds of pesky behavior. When Roberta comes along, Ramona doesn't feel left out or unloved due to having an active social life, and she enjoys helping take care of her baby sister.
- Mondegreen: In-universe in Ramona the Pest, which takes place when Ramona's in kindergarten, Ramona mistakes the lyrics "the dawn's early light" (in the Star Spangled Banner) for "the dawnzer's lee light" and comes to the conclusion that "dawnzer" means "lamp". This leads to her trying to show off her knowledge ("why don't you turn on the dawnzer?"), to the befuddled reactions of her parents and sister.
- Ramona herself is also misunderstood by others in her kindergarten incarnation. "I'd like to make Q's." "Make use of what?" She then wonders what kind of grown-up doesn't know what the letter "Q" is. (The substitute, obviously, because substitutes are stupid - so Ramona thinks at that age)
- Most Writers Are Adults: Averted. When reading the books, it's easy to identify with Ramona in whatever year of life and grade she's currently in.
- Parents as People: The adults are fleshed out too, and have their own problems. Ramona's parents deal with on-and-off unemployment and dislike of their jobs, along with other adult problems. As the story is told from Ramona's perspective, we only know what she knows about their lives, but she knows enough to be aware of these things.
- Poke the Poodle: In Ramona the Brave, where she's 6, Ramona is so angry she threatens to say a bad word. So she shouts "GUTS!" at the top of her lungs again and again, and rather than get in trouble, she gets laughed at.
- Slice of Life: A big part of why the books are so much fun!
- Sliding Scale of Silliness Versus Seriousness: Largely in the middle. There's a lot of humor that comes from the situations Ramona gets into as well as her thoughts and views on things, but also a lot of drama coming from Ramona's dealing with the world and problems in her life from a child's eye perspective (e.g. her frustration at people not taking her seriously and laughing at her unintentional malapropisms in the younger stories, getting in trouble for things she didn't mean to do - this stuff is devastating to a little kid!). The stories are neither very silly nor very serious, and do a good job of balancing humor with drama. As Ramona gets older, the focus does swing closer to drama, but still remains in the center.
- To Be Lawful or Good: There are several instances where Ramona comes to realize that doing the right thing might mean getting in trouble. Should she help Davy, who's struggling with his writing, or "keep [her] eyes on [her] own paper" like the teacher said? When instructed to be quiet and stay in place during a wedding, should she point out where the missing wedding ring is that everyone's looking for, or just keep quiet like she was told to and therefore prolong the search?
- Unreliable Illustrator: In the reissues with the new artist, the picture doesn't completely match what the text says in a few instances when characters are specifically described wearing a certain outfit, and the illustration contradicts it. This includes modernization - for example, Ramona is said to use rollerskates, but the illustration depicts rollerblades, which are more modern.
- Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Averted in these and the Henry Huggins series; they all explicitly take place in Portland, Oregon (Cleary's former hometown). Local streets and landmarks (as well as Mount Hood) are mentioned, and the city of Portland responded by placing statues of the characters in a park. The two Ellen Tebbits books take place on the other side of Portland.
- Your Other Left / Who's on First?: "Do I turn left?"/"Right" happens in Ramona and Her Mother, when Beezus is giving her mother directions to get to the hairstylist's.