Photo Credit: HarperCollins/
beverlycleary.com

I grew up homeschooled with three younger siblings and a small circle of friends. I lived in a small town with a small library that housed a small selection of books for small children. Some of those books were written by Beverly Cleary and featured, you guessed it, a small girl named Ramona (Geraldine!) Quimby. We became friends as soon as my mother introduced us; she herself had also befriended Ramona many years before. 

When I heard that the woman who provided a friend for so many children like my mother and myself had passed away on Friday, I felt a deep sadness, but also a warm glow of happiness. This is because I can’t remember Ramona Quimby, or any of Cleary’s dear characters, without a smile making its way across my face and a memory of some youthful hijinks flitting across my mind. That’s the magic of Beverly Cleary; if you’ve ever befriended one of her creations, you’ll never forget it. And, thanks to the wonderful world of books, you can always reach out and rekindle that friendship. 

When my coworkers and I talked about Cleary’s recent passing, I saw similar reactions manifest on their faces, and similar sentiments to my own were voiced. Suddenly, in a sweet Monday miracle, we were all smiling and looking off into an upper corner of our respective Zoom screens, recalling a playdate with Henry Huggins, or Ralph S. Mouse, or, of course, Ramona the Pest. What was that hilarious vignette with the worms again? Didn’t the mouse have a motorcycle? We were all a little distracted from our to-do lists because our younger selves were having a good laugh. 

BEAMING WITH EXUBERANCE

Beverly Cleary wrote an impressive 55 books and won so many awards that I can’t begin to tell of them all. Her first novel was about Henry Huggins and his beloved dog Ribsy, and it came into the world in 1950. Oh, no wonder my Mom also read those books. Wait, I must now state that my mother came into the world somewhat later than 1950. She’s not that old. How old did that make Cleary when she died? An entire 104 years, actually, but when you take a look at recent snapshots she still beams with all the exuberance of her single-digit characters. It’s hard not to think that if I’d ever met Cleary herself, I’d have been just as close with her as I was with Ramona. 

Before sitting down to write this, I checked my bookshelf to see if I could unearth my absolute favorite of Ramona’s adventures, Beezus and Ramona. The younger Quimby delighted me with her vivacious escapades in when she was a downright pest, trying so very hard to be brave, a precocious eight years of age, or interacting with her mother and father, but as an elder sister myself, I loved that I could appreciate this particular book from two perspectives. Ramona and I were both adventurous, tomboy-ish ragamuffins: Beatrice Quimby and I were both attempting to be responsible, always pushed to edge yet fiercely protective of our younger siblings. Cleary gave me two spot-on depictions of myself in one spunky book.

LOVE REDISCOVERED

I’ve got to find that book and reread it. Maybe then, next time we see each other, my younger sister and I can watch the movie adaptation of it. We were elated when it came out (both reading much longer books for class assignments by that point). Together we remembered our love of Cleary’s books and happily had a bonding experience rattling off all the scenes we could recall, then settled in to watch the movie. Now, years later, my coworkers and I had a version of that experience by laughing at Cleary’s clever works together.

Right now I could be rifling through bookshelves to find that well-worn, dog-eared book. I could visit the old library and find the section that’s brimming over with Ramona and her friends. I could call my sister and arrange to watch that movie. I could take a quiz on the website to test how well I know each character. 

It turns out I could devote a whole day to honoring the late Beverly Cleary because I know Ramona like I know all my real-life childhood friends.