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'Ramona the Pest' is a book I first read some 35 years ago, and it was always one of my favourites. Some scenes made me laugh so much that they stayed with me over the years, which is not bad going! For some reason, I never realised this was one of a series of seven books (albeit a series written over many years!) until quite recently, when I quickly snapped up the others - ostensibly for my children (!) but also to reprise the fun for myself. I wasn't disappointed - I loved them all, and so did they.
Ramona Quimby lives with her parents and her older sister, Beezus, (so called because Ramona could not pronounce 'Beatrice' at first). Beezus is five years older than Ramona and so has to look after her little sister quite a bit. The books deal with plenty of aspects of sibling love, rivalry and sheer exasperation - hence Ramona 'the pest'. Ramona never means to be a pest, but she is a little girl with a very active imagination, who can be very hot-headed, and who has a seemingly endless capacity for getting into scrapes.
So, this is the second book, and Ramona is just about to start kindergarten, aged 5. She is excited and nervous all at once, and as usual manages some very funny misunderstandings. I really don't want to give away too much, but just as a taster of the kind of things that go wrong for Ramona, one of my favourites was when her new teacher Miss Binney tells her on the first day to 'sit there for the present'. Ramona is convinced Miss Binney loves her the best in the class and is going to give her a present ... cue plenty of confusion! We also get to sympathise with the straight-haired Ramona's unbearable desire to 'boing' the curls of fellow classmate Susan. Will she resist the urge?
I think the first book was written back in the 1950's, so there are obviously some things which need a bit of explaining to today's kids (for example, I had to explain to my two why Ramona's mother was 'liberated' when she got a part-time job!) but many of the issues and situations dealt with are actually fairly timeless so the book doesn't come across as dated.
The books are great as early chapter books for children of 7 or so to read on their own, but they are also brilliant books to read aloud to younger children. They remain good to read aloud for many years - my 12 year old still enjoys having these read to her!
I think the books deal really well with all sorts of family / school / friendship situations and as the series takes Ramona from age 4 to around age 9, it also starts to deal with the issues surrounding being a teenager (Beezus) and having a teenage sister (Ramona) - so if you actually read these with your kids there are plenty of easy ways in to talk about the kind of things that might be bothering them.
~~~~~A Bit About the Author~~~~~
Quite often we find a lot out about a book by finding out about the author, and this is definitely true this time around. Beverly Cleary was born in the US state of Oregon in 1916. She was slow at learning to read at first, crediting both a bad experience with her first ever teacher, as well as absolutely detesting the stories and books they first gave the children to read. By her third year of school however, she had learned to read well, settled into reading more enjoyable books she found at her local library. This love of books and her library led to her attending college and becoming a librarian. Her first full time post as a librarian led to her encountering children who asked for books that had stories of the same sort she always wished for, and rarely found, being that of children just like themselves, and so in response, she sat down and wrote Henry Huggins, which was published in 1950.
Henry was a little boy who was contemporary to the time of the book writing, and the story centred upon him and his escapades with the children in his neighbourhood. It's success led to it becoming a series, beloved of boys and girls alike, while two of its recurring characters, Beezus and Ramona, got their own series. This is one of those books.
Poor Beatrice. She has a little sister named Ramona and she is a PEST. Ramona is always embarrassing Beatrice. Take her name for example. She couldn't say it, so now she is called Beezus. And how about her always doing stuff, like pretending she is Gretel and melting her doll in the oven while Mum is baking Beezus' birthday cake? Or writing in Beezus' library book? Or worse...showing her up in front of Henry, like when she rammed him with her tricycle, or the time she locked Henry's dog in the closet???? Beezus gets fed up a lot, but that's how being sisters is. Sometimes you just get so mad, you don't even know if you love them right that second. And as for Ramona....
....growing up is tough, especially when you are five. It's her reception year now and she is off to big kid school. But it isn't fair. Classmate Suzy is bossy and mean, and Ramona gets told off for pulling her curls in response. And what's wrong with chasing Davy around the playground? She likes him, and makes sure to give him a kiss if she catches him! And that old school crossing guard is just Beezus' friend Henry. She has his number, and knows JUST how to push his buttons. But Miss Binney doesn't seem to understand, and Ramona gets a talking to again when she hides behind the bins one afternoon during a game of Grey Duck, making Ramona just KNOW Miss Binney doesn't like her and no one wants her there. It's so unfair, because Ramona likes Miss Binney and the rest of school is not so bad. The only answer is to never go back to school again. Ramona knows they just can't make her! Or can they? And is it as bad as she thinks?
I myself first read this book back in 1976, and despite it being written decade earlier, it stood fresh in my mind. Childhood really doesn't change that much in many respects, and so I found a lot of common ground with both Beezus and Ramona, even though I did not grow up with any siblings. Remembering the book, I decided to get my daughter a copy for her own enjoyment, and waited to se what she thought. Almost seven, she too found the characters likable and familiar, and the situations they found themselves in echoing those of herself and her peers. Just as I had over thirty years before, she found the writing engaging and humorous, with many giggles to be heard while reading. This is one of the gifts Beverly Cleary has given children. Not only are they realistic children, with true to life issues dealing with growing up, but its done gently and with humour, yet without making a farce out of the situation and making overly light of the things that worry children. As a result , the book comes across reassuring as to how normal these feelings are, and helps them deal with their fears and those of others, as well as relate to the feelings of other children.
At 211 pages, it is not the shortest chapter book for children in its target audience, but the chapters inside are not overly long, nor is it so thick as to be off putting in the eyes of a child looking to attempt it. Parents and teachers looking for an "official" stamp of approval of its quality can also rest assured as it has won three awards, Georgia Children's Book Award, Hawaii's Nene Award, and Oklahoma's Sequoyah Children's Book Award. While American, the names of things and other aspects of school life that are American will still be familiar to British children thanks to movies and television, and further open a window on a culture that is close enough to our life in Britain to be easy to understand, but different enough to fascinate. Also, parents and children alike may be reassured by the knowledge that the most recent Ramona book came out quite recently, and was outsold only by Harry Potter in the US.
Recommended reading level is age 6 and up, so a child who can read fairly well and is beginning chapter books should have no trouble here. I do recommend the first book in the series, Beezus and Ramona be read first though it is not entirely necessary as this stands well on its own. Parents unsure of what this reading level actually entails can go to the book's Amazon.com listing and use the Search inside function to look at an excerpt from the very first page, in order to gauge the vocabulary level. Purchase is not necessary from that site however, unless one wishes to for exchange rate reasons or otherwise, as the book is also available here and can be requested from any good bookstore or ordered from Amazon's .co.uk site, including offerings from the Marketplace. Value wise, the single edition costs about £3 new, and from the Marketplace from 1 p plus the shipping, so its not an expensive read. However, you can purchase a box set of the first few volumes in the series together from just under £6 via the marketplace, which is much better value than ordering each book separately, so worth a consideration, as this book is likely to be a hit with your child who will want to read more.