Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Brave opens in the middle of a conflict, with Ramona trailing along after her sister Beezus, storming home from the playground steaming mad because some boys taunted her with calls of “Jesus Beezus!” Later, first-grader Ramona runs across a plagiarizing classmate who copies her paper owl, encounters a mean dog, braves the dark of her own bedroom, and defiantly informs her parents that she is going to say a bad word.
I was hooked, and I wanted more.
Fortunately, there was more. Lots more. My mother had given me the hardcover of Ramona the Brave — shown just up there on the right — on its release in 1975, as I was starting third grade. I went to the librarian at my elementary school with a copy of the book and asked her, “Are there more of these?” Together, we looked through the card catalogue (and they were really on cards in those days, kids! And a steak only cost a nickel! Now get offa my lawn!) and she steered me over to a shelf lined with other books by Beverly Cleary. It was the First Time I Was Hooked By A Series With Continuing Characters.
And what characters there were: the humorless Howie Kemp and his bratty baby sister, Willa Jean; spoiled pretty-girl Susan Kushner, with the curls Ramona can’t help pulling with a satisfying boing!; Davy, Ramona’s kissable crush; even Ramona’s parents were fully-realized characters, with their own strengths and weaknesses. Oh, and there was also Henry Huggins, who had initially been Cleary’s star attraction throughout the 1950s and 60s, until Ramona — like Jaime Somers stealing the spotlight from Steve Austin — surpassed him in popularity, relegating him to Special Guest Star/Cameo Appearances thereafter.
I quickly caught up on all of Cleary’s books over the next year — even reading the books that were outside of the Ramona continuity, like The Mouse and the Motorcycle — and continued to read the Ramona books as they were released over the next nine years. As a junior in high school, I even checked the newly-released Ramona Forever out of the library on the sly, so I could catch up on the latest goings-on on Klickitat Street.
To this day, I remain a hardcore admirer of Beverly Cleary (now a spry 92-year-old, living in California), and I’m delighted to have shared her books with my own daughter — who, when she saw me watching her as she stood in line with some of her friends the other day, grinned up at me and pretended to pull the ponytail of the girl in line in front of her and mouthed the word boing!. Each of us laughed in appreciation of the shared joke, and Beverly Cleary’s imagination lives on in yet another generation. As it should.