When I was young I was in love with the characters of KlickitatStreet created by Beverly Cleary. Residents included Henry Huggins and his dog Ribsy; Ellen Tebbits, who I named my fake imaginary friend after, and my all-time favourite sisters Beezus and Ramona Quimby.
Being raised in Brisbane by one Australian and one American parent, I often dreamt of what my life would be like if my parents had stayed in the United States. The American childhood seemed to be simple and delightful – singing the Star Spangled Banner, and riding bikes carelessly along flat, gridded streets (much unlike the hilly mazes in Brisbane), with the most offensive animal being a squirrel. Sometimes when killing redback spiders and dodging swooping magpies became too much for me, I longed for what I believed to be the simplicity of American lif.
Ramona Quimby was Beverly Cleary’s hero character, and she was my hero too. She was spunky and sassy and I wished that I were like her. Ramona was a precocious child but was completely relatable. She would stand up for herself in the schoolyard against the biggest bully, but when it came to having to move into her own bedroom, she was terribly frightened, much like I was during the same life watershed moment.
Ramona Forever sticks out as my favourite of the books. This is probably because we had an audiocassette of it, which we would listen to on family car trips. Stockard Channing was the narrator, which to a serious Grease fan meant a lot. If Rizzo was into Ramona, then clearly Ramona was just as awesome as I had always thought.
A more reflective reason is because, in this novel, we see Ramona growing up from her days of being the neighbourhood pest while overcoming significant events in her life.
By age eight, Ramona has become a responsible young girl, who minds her manners (unless ‘thoroughly provoked’). In this book, the Quimbys find out they are expecting a third child, while dealing with the hardship of Mr Quimby’s impending unemployment.
Longing to be acknowledged as responsible girls, the Quimby sisters plead to be allowed to stay home on their own after school (instead of being looked after by cranky Mrs Kent). Eventually the parents agree, giving Ramona the opportunity to prove herself as a mature young lady.
While home alone, their family cat Picky Picky passes away and Ramona and Beezus dig a grave, giving the cat a funeral on their own to avoid upsetting their pregnant mother.
On another occasion when she and her older sister are bickering, Ramona calls Beezus “pizza face” and to her horror, Beezus is devastated. Not realising the effect the nickname would have on Beezus, who had started to develop hormonal pimples, Ramona is mortified when she realises how much she has accidentally hurt her older sister, and does her best to fix it. (The old Ramona would not have bothered).
When she finds out her favourite Aunt Bea is marrying her best friend’s pesky Uncle Hobart, Ramona is most unimpressed. But as time goes on and she learns more about Hobart, Ramona begins to accept him and then welcome him into their family.
Finally at the end of the book we see a new family member called Roberta arrive, taking Ramona’s cherished place of being the youngest in the family. After much consideration and concern, Ramona realises how hard it is to be a baby and to grow up, and develops unexpected love and sympathy for the new addition to the family.
“Isn’t it funny?” she says. “That I used to be little and funny-looking and cross-eyed like Roberta, and now look at me. I’m wonderful me!”
Reflecting on everything that happened in the book, Ramona came to one final realisation: she was winning at growing up.
This September, we’ve asked eight writers to revisit their favourite books from childhood for our new series, When I was young.