growing up cleary…

How do you write about childhood memories? Memories that are so dear to you, that whenever one surfaces, it’s like a bubble of happiness has burst in your own ocean of remembering. Only a bubble, because the memories are small (in some cases), faraway and vague, hard to grasp. But you know, without a doubt, that they gave you joy when you were a child. That is what Beverly Cleary’s books were (and still are) to me... bubbles of happy memories.

While spending an evening with my friends, we were very indecisive about what movie to watch. So, my friend picked a movie that she assured us was wonderful, though it was supposed to be a kids’ movie. I admit it, I was skeptical, but perfectly willing to take my friend’s word for it. The movie was Ramona and Beezus.

There are a lot of silly movies about kids and for kids, nowadays. Believe me, I’ve had to watch quite a few of them, as my Aussie kids keep choosing movies that I think are ridiculous. Some of which I can’t even be in the room for, if I can help it, and yet they watch them over and over again. Don’t even talk to me about Zookeeper or Beverly Hills Chihuahua. I have a bone to pick with their directors.

But the movies that are about kids, again and again, they’re ridiculous. Yes, kids get into mischief. But it’s like the directors are trying to one-up each other over the insanity the children perpetrate. Some of the things they do, I would think they’d be arrested for. And yes, kids can be rude and obnoxious, but the snarky-ness and disrespect shown to adults in modern-day movies is a downright shame. Because what example will kids have, if their parents don’t teach them any better, and all they see are misbehaving young people in the movies they watch?

So, we were watching Ramona and Beezus, highly recommended by a friend (same age as me), so I was had turned my cynical switch off, even though knowing Selena Gomez would be starring was giving me the willies. I’m sorry, but my kids just watched Monte Carlo for several days in a row, and it didn’t make me a fan. No, I didn’t stay around for the whole film, so if you’re fan, I’m sorry. Slightly.

Then, the screen went black, and Walden Media’s symbol went up onscreen. I sat up a little straighter, as Walden Media is known for wanting to take excellent books, with messages of goodness and morality, and put them on the big-screen. Thus, they’ve produced The Chronicles of Narnia films (based on the books by C. S. Lewis), Bridge to Terabithia (based on the Newbery Medal book), Because of Winn-Dixie (based on the Newbery Honor book), Holes (based on the Newbery Medal book), Charlotte’s Web (based on the Newbery Honor book), and How to Eat Fried Worms. As the Newbery books are for outstanding children’s literature, then this is quite a list of books to make into movies.

Shortly thereafter, I discovered that my friends had not been raised on Beverly Cleary books, to my shock. They’d never heard of them before, so when Ramona squirted all of her toothpaste into the sink, made a crown of burrs for her hair, nearly got run over by Willa Jean’s tricycle, and smashed an egg in her hair, this was all new. For me, the memories were vague over some plot points, but others I could see coming. And I found it absolutely delightful!

One wonderful point to the story is how the filmmakers illustrate Ramona’s imagination. When she’s playing at crossing the jungle gym, on the playground, she begins to imagine herself trying to cross a ravine that’s many miles deep. When she’s jumping into a hole full of dirt, dragging a sheet behind her, he’s parachuting out of a plane, and can see her whole town below. And when she runs away from home, she drags her suitcase up hill to Paris, Egypt, and beyond, before reaching the bus stop. The people behind this movie were rooting for Ramona, and enjoying her imaginative, accident-prone life, but they were never making fun of her.

Along with the adorable Joey King playing Ramona, there was a fabulous cast filling out the rest of the parts. With John Corbett as Mr. Quimby, Bridget Moynahan as his wife, Ginnifer Goodwin as Aunt Beatrice, Josh Duhamel as Hobart, and Sandra Oh as Mrs. Meacham, you couldn’t have asked for a better collection of actors. John Corbett (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) is the dad that every child wants, who encourages you and plays with you. Aunt Bea is the ideal aunt, who understands what it’s like to be the middle sister. And Josh Duhamel is in the best role I’ve ever seen him play, as the neighbor who’s come back, hoping to rekindle his romance with Aunt Bea. And of course, Ramona does her best to keep Hobart from “reeling” her aunt in “like a sea bass”.

I would recommend this movie to anyone, child or adult that’s young at heart. You won’t be disappointed. And if you happened to be raised on Beverly Cleary, this will be a walk down memory lane. And yes, I did mean to talk about the movie for a bit, but I am heading back to the books.

I never read Henry Huggins, which was Mrs. Cleary’s first book, and though I remember Ribsy, I’m not sure if I read it. I was much more fascinated with the story of Ramona and her family, and I wasn’t unusual, as there’s a reason Mrs. Cleary wrote so many books about the Quimby family. Ramona and Beezus began as side characters in the Henry books, but they proved so popular that she continued to write more books about them. These included Ramona the Pest, Beezus and Ramona, Ramona Forever, Ramona and Her Mother, Ramona and Her Father, and several others.

My memories of the Ramona books are all tangled up, and though I’m pretty sure we only had two or three of them, I’m sure we borrowed the rest from the library. So, my mom probably read them aloud to me. But when I watched the movie, which combines incidents from all the different books, I could recall reading about the different happenings. The toothpaste in the sink, burrs in her hair, annoyances with Willa Jean, getting on Beezus’ nerves, saying a “bad word” (guts!) at the dinner table, and many other things. I really need to read them all again, because they’re so tangled up in my head.

Beverly Cleary also wrote The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Ralph S. Mouse, and Runaway Ralph, and I know I read those, too. Maybe that was my first introduction to animals that talked and thought like people (those books and A Cricket in Times Square), which would eventually lead me to the Redwall books. My childish imagination just ran away with the mouse that rode that red motorcycle.

And considering I mentioned all the Walden Media films that won literary awards, I should mention that both Ramona Quimby, Age 8, and Ramona and Her Father won Newbery Honors, while Mrs. Cleary’s other book Dear Mr. Henshaw won the Newbery Medal. I don’t think I ever read that one, so I couldn’t say whether they’d ever make it into a movie or not.

I hope you enjoyed my walk down memory lane. If you haven’t read any Beverly Cleary to your kids, then you should. And the Aussie and UK publishers really need to get them over here. No child should grow up without Ramona.

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