Most bookish women I know lay alms at the altar of Judy Blume, with good reason. I too love Judy. I learned a lot from her, and as everyone knows I am more prone to quote Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing than any poem.
But Judy was not my first love. My first real book love was Beverly Cleary. I remember our elementary school librarian Miss Heck reading Henry and Ribsy out loud to us. It was a monumental event, because when she was finished reading that book we could check out the “grown up” books. At least we thought they were grown up books because they had chapters. Until that point we were relegated to kid books, which were housed in the bottom two shelves closest to the floor.
While I loved Babar and Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel, I longed for a big, fat book. Once the chapter books were unleashed, I eagerly plucked Ramona the Pest from the shelf. It was love at first read.
I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight, but I still remember sitting on the couch reading this book. Now, nearly thirty years later, when I see someone with boing-boing curls, much like Ramona, I long to pull them in hope they will spring back and bounce like a spring. (Pity my poor nephew Max because his hair often sprouts boing-boing curls when it gets long enough.)
What I loved so much about Cleary’s books was that she seemed to wholly understand the sister relationship. The love and hate of it, and how a younger sister could drive you totally insane, get you into trouble, and it so wasn’t fair. Ever. At the time, I didn’t know a lot of girls my age who had younger sisters, and my best friend Jenni didn’t even have a sister.
I was pretty sure that nobody could understand. But then there was Beezus and Ramona. Even though Ramona was the star of the show, it was studious, beleaguered Beezus who stole my heart. Beezus was the bomb, and Ramona really was a pest.
Today is Beverly Clearly’s 93rd birthday, and I just wanted to give thanks.
As far as I can remember I don’t think I’ve read one of her books since I was ten or eleven, and yet I can still vividly picture the scene where Beezus is in an art class and she draws a picture of Ramona’s imaginary pet, a lizard. Only Beezus gives the lizard lollipop spines and has it breathe cotton candy. Beezus is so proud of the drawing because throughout the book (I can’t remember which one) everyone had been praising Ramona for being so imaginative. Then some ratboy comes along and tells Beezus her painting is stupid and looks like the dinosaur from the gas station sign.
Oh thank you Beverly Cleary. While Judy Blume taught me a lot about life, you were the first person to show me how books can mirror real life and what a comfort that can be. It was through Beezus and Ramona that I first discovered I am not alone and that has been a comfort throughout my life.