Literature: Ramona Quimby
The first grade teacher's lavishing praise on the copycat instead of Ramona! (One of many real-life situations covered by these books)
Well-known and beloved children's book series by Beverly Cleary
about a girl named Ramona Quimby, whose age ranges from 4 to 10 as we see different years of her life.
The books are famous for their excellent and light-hearted mixture of believable real-life situations, humor, and personality.
Part of what makes the books work so well is the portrayal of various events that are a huge deal to a child, but which tend to be minimized or overlooked by adult eyes. For example, in Ramona the Brave
, the first grade class has to make owls using paper bags, glue, and several other things. Ramona notices that Susan, who she doesn't get along with in the first place, is copying all of Ramona's attempts at originality. When Susan's owl gets praise from the teacher for being original, Ramona, in fear that she will be considered the copycat rather than Susan, tears up her own owl, then later, Susan's, and stomps out of the classroom and runs home in tears.
That's the sort of event that many adults would see as simply a little kid being overdramatic about some little thing, but the way the story tells it from Ramona's eyes (in third-person limited), we understand her pain, her hurt at having been copied by the kid sitting next to her, and her fear of being mistakenly thought to be the copycat herself. And of course, her rage at being made to apologize and at Susan's smug look, so we can't help but relate (and yet also, as adults, cringe) when Ramona follows up the apology with a whispered insult.
There's plenty of light humor as well. Some of Ramona's behaviors and solutions to problems are a little odd or occasionally bizarre to an adult, but make perfect sense from her point of view. For example, also in Ramona the Brave
, Ramona tries to fight a scary dog by throwing her shoe at it; the dog promptly steals and runs off with said shoe. Ramona tries to hide her socked foot in class, then later decides to create a makeshift slipper out of paper towels stapled together in a slipper shape and use that as a substitute. Cute, funny stuff from an adult (or older kid) perspective, and an excellent example of why these books have so many adults as a Periphery Demographic
Even as Ramona ages throughout the series, the issues she faces and the "important to kids, usually overlooked by adults" problems she deals with continue to be age-appropriate relative to her current age. In Ramona Forever
, in which Ramona enters fourth grade, Ramona finds herself blamed when bratty Willa Jean, then aged 5, breaks an accordion. After all, shouldn't 9-year-old Ramona have been looking after her more closely and stopped it? Ramona soon learns in no uncertain terms that Willa Jean's lazy grandmother hates looking after kids, and doesn't like Ramona. (This time, her parents are more understanding.)
And things like that are why these books just work.
The series has been made into a short-lived TV show in Canada, simply called Ramona
, which emphasized the light drama found in the books over the light humor, and is most heavily based on Ramona Quimby, Age 8
. Notable in that it completely averts Dawson Casting
A movie, titled Ramona and Beezus
, has also been made.
The list of books includes:
Ramona Quimby, Age 8
- Beezus and Ramona (1955) - Ramona is in preschool, and the story is mostly about Beezus, who is turning nine. This is more of a bridge between the earlier Henry Huggins series and Ramona's own, as Beezus never actually had her own series but was a character in Henry's.
- Ramona the Pest (1968) - Ramona is in kindergarten. Too-perfect Susan, and poor struggling Davy, are introduced.
- Ramona the Brave (1975) - Ramona is in first grade.
- Ramona and her Father (1977) - Ramona is in second grade.
- Ramona and her Mother (1979) - Ramona is still in second grade.
- Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (1981) - Ramona is in third grade. Yard Ape, a male friend/rival, is introduced.
- Ramona Forever (1984) - Ramona is inbetween third and fourth grade, during the summer. A new baby sister, Roberta, is born.
- Ramona's World (1999) - Ramona is in fourth grade. A new female friend, Daisy, is introduced.
and Ramona and her Father
are the two Newbery Honor books of the series. Despite being Newbery Honor, there is no Death by Newbery Medal
, nor are they depressing. They are in fact the same mix of light humor and mild drama as the rest of the series. The author, Beverly Cleary
, has been named a "Living Legend" by the US Library of Congress.
This series contains examples of:
- Age-Appropriate Angst: It actually is age-appropriate. Ramona's problems are all things kids her current age can relate to.
- Alpha Bitch: Although she's only mentioned, Beezus' classmate Pamela appears to be one of these. She's rich and popular so all the girls want to be like her. She's also always asking Beezus when her father is going to get a real job, causing Beezus to no longer want anything to do with her.
- Always Someone Better: Susan is pretty, sweet, and good at looking good in front of adults. Ramona envies and is jealous of her and it colors their relation for the entire run of the series.
- Annoying Younger Sibling:
- Beezus considers Ramona to be this. When Ramona is first introduced in Beezus and Ramona, she comes off like this to the reader, but becomes more sympathetic as time goes on and we see things from her point of view in her own series.
- Willa Jean for Howie as well. Aunt Bea was also implied to have been a lot like Ramona when she was young (while the girls' mother was a lot like Beezus).
- Anxiety Dreams: In Ramona The Brave, Ramona is having trouble adjusting to the first grade. She's also sleeping in her own room for the first time, which makes her afraid of the dark. She tells her mother about a nightmare where something horrible is chasing her and she can't run. Beezus comments that she's had the same dream and that it's awful.
- Berserk Button:
- Ramona's is when people find her amusing when she is trying to be serious. She also hates being told to grow up; for example, Beezus says this to her in Ramona The Brave, and Ramona screams, "CAN'T YOU SEE I'M TRYING!?" at the top of her lungs.
- Beezus' is her acne. Ramona triggered it inadvertently by calling her 'pizzaface'. Ramona just meant it as a variation on 'pieface', but Beezus took it as an acne joke.
- Birth/Death Juxtaposition: Ramona and Beezus learn that their mother is pregnant shortly after they have to bury the family cat.
- Boyish Short Hair: Both series illustrators, Alan Tiegreen and Tracy Dockray, depict Ramona with short brown hair that fits her tomboyish nature.
- Bratty Half-Pint:
- Willa Jean, Howie's little sister, who is four years younger than Ramona and Howie. Both Ramona and Howie can't stand her, and especially the fact that Willa Jean never seems to get in trouble for the things she does. Or the fact that Ramona is blamed when Willa Jean does something wrong, because supposedly looking after a bratty little kid is another kid's job. She does, however, get a lot better in Ramona Forever (the last book she appeared in).
- Ramona herself was actually introduced as the Bratty Half-Pint of the Henry Huggins series. She played this role through that series, in the single book written from Beezus' point of view, and was still obviously this to some people in her first couple books.
- Breakout Character: Ramona and Beezus first appeared as side characters in Henry Huggins. It's surprising when you read Henry Huggins to see just how little Beezus and Ramona were in it. Beezus is just one of Henry's neighbourhood friends and she and Mary Jane are Those Two Guys (with Beezus as the tomboy and Mary Jane as the girly girl). Ramona is only mentioned a few times as Beezus' younger sister. Their roles were greatly expanded in Henry and Beezus and, of course, they eventualy got their own series.
- Break the Cutie: Ramona has an instance of at least one of these in every book except Ramona's World, but the most obvious instances are in Ramona The Brave and Ramona Quimby, Age 8.
- Brutal Honesty: An amusing one from Ramona in Beezus and Ramona. Mrs. Quimby sends her to her room for disrupting Beezus and Henry's checker game. A few minutes later, Ramona opens the door and asks if she can come out now. Mrs. Quimby asks if she can stop bothering Henry and Beezus. One might expect Ramona to say yes and end her punishment, but instead she just says, "No," and closes the door.
- Buffy Speak: Naturally, since most of the main characters aren't even in their teens. Ramona herself is a proud offender:
Stuff was a perfectly good, handy, multipurpose word and easy to spell, too.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Henry Huggins wasn't so much as mentioned in Ramona's World even though he'd appeared in all the Ramona books previously and hadn't moved away or stopped being friends with Beezus or anything. Beezus' friend Mary Jane wasn't mentioned at all in Ramona's World either.
- Closest Thing We Got: Ramona and Beezus end up substituting banana yogurt for buttermilk, cream of wheat for cornmeal, and apricot jam for jelly while cooking dinner for their parents in one book.
- Comic-Book Time: All books take place when they were written. This means that Ramona ages from a preschooler to a fourth-grader while experiencing more than four decades. This results in some slight Anachronism Stew when it comes to social and speaking norms. For example, Ramona's World, written in 1999, when the author was in her late 70s, adds more modern speech elements such as the overuse of "stuff" in kids' dialog (e.g. "We brought snacks and stuff.") while still using the old-fashioned word "cross" to mean "angry"/"annoyed".
- Compressed Vice: Mr. Quimby has a smoking problem in Ramona and her Father. He never seemed to have that problem before, but Ramona hadn't really thought about it before. It got brought up when Beezus angrily asked why he could afford to smoke when the family couldn't afford decent food for the cat.
- Continuity Nod: In Ramona and her Father Ramona remembers her mother making her a devil costume when she was younger. In Henry and the Clubhouse Ramona is dressed as a devil for Halloween, which Henry finds appropriate.
- Covers Always Lie: Some reprintings of Ramona and Her Mother showcase Ramona trying to hide the famous "toothpaste cake" from her mom - it's actually Beezus who finds it.
- Creepy Basement: Ramona and Howie sometimes use this to their advantage. Willa Jean won't go into the Kemp's basement because she's afraid of the furnace, so Ramona and Howie will retreat to the basement to stop her from bothering them.
- A Day in the Limelight: Beezus and Ramona is the first book to center around the Quimby girls, who'd previously been supporting characters in the Henry Huggins books.
- Ramona the Pest is the first book written from Ramona's perspective, which would hold for the rest of the series.
- Death by Newbery Medal: Ramona Quimby, Age 8 and Ramona and Her Father avert this trope: despite each winning a Newberry Medal, neither book has anyone die.
- Express Lane Limit: Mr. Quimby works as a supermarket cashier for awhile. The express lane has a nine-item limit, but customers frequently try to sneak through with ten or eleven items. The customers often count the items in each others' baskets and argue among themselves. Naturally, Mr. Quimby dislikes working the express lane.
- Epic Fail: According to Ramona, the letter Q written in cursive. It just looks like a sloppily written number 2.
- Fashion Hurts: Ramona and Beezus's shoes pinch their feet in Ramona Forever. They find a better use for them. Subverted when it turns out that this is by accident: their mother hadn't realized the girls outgrew the shoes.
- Floorboard Failure: In one of the books, Ramona falls halfway through the unfinished floor of a friend's attic. She's very annoyed when she tries to tell the story at the dinner table with what she feels is an appropriate amount of drama, and her older sister interrupts, saying how easy it is to step onto the plaster and that she knows someone who fell all the way through.
- Foreign Remake: The 1980s series moved the setting from Portland to Southern Ontario with the serial numbers filed off.
- Full Name Ultimatum: Ramona knows she's in big trouble when she's called either "Ramona Geraldine Quimby" or "Young Lady".
- Go to Your Room: Ramona is frequently sent to her room for misbehaving, particularly in the earlier novels. She also tries to administer this punishment herself in Beezus and Ramona. Ribsy the dog steals a cookie from her, so she leads him into the bathroom and tells him to stay in there until he can be a good dog. Ribsy ends up locked in the bathroom, which no one in the house is happy about.
- Hates Baths: Ramona hates having her hair washed as a toddler. Whenever Mrs. Quimby washes her hair, Ramona squirms around and screams the whole time.
- Have a Gay Old Time: "With grey thread, Beezus carefully outlined the steam coming from the teakettle's spout and thought about her pretty young aunt, who was always so gay and understanding."
- Hidden Depths: Some characters introduced in early books reveal additional depth in later books, giving insight into why they are the way they are.
- Davy, The Woobie who Ramona takes pity on in kindergarten? His parents divorce (it's mentioned in the background) when he's in second grade, implying that maybe his school troubles were related to home troubles (and one passage in Ramona the Brave suggests he's dyslexic).
- Susan, the spoiled too-perfect girl who Ramona at first likes (in early books), but gradually starts to not be able to stand (in later ones)? She has a breakdown in fourth grade about having "to be perfect all the time".
- And, indeed, the Ramona series itself was a spin-off from the Henry Huggins books, which focused around Beezus' (implied) boyfriend Henry and his adventures with his dog Ribsy. Ramona, in contrast, was rarely the focus of any scene and was more of a nuisance than anything.
- Hypocritical Heartwarming: Beezus displays this towards Ramona on several occasions, especially in the earlier books.
- I Ate WHAT?: Beezus and Ramona are horrified to discover that the meat they were enjoying is actually tongue.
- I Resemble That Remark: In Ramona The Brave, Mrs. Quimby comments that Ramona seems cranky this morning. Ramona insists she's not cranky, but the fierce scowl on her face tells a different story.
- In Beezus and Ramona, Ramona is acting sulky at the dinner table and Mrs. Quimby says, "Where's my Merry Sunshine?" Ramona scowls and then yells, "I am too a Merry Sunshine!" After a few moments, she repeats this sentence, then runs out of the room.
- Insistent Terminology: When Mr. Quimby loses his job, the Quimby parents insist that he was not "fired" - since he did not lose his job for something he did wrong.
- Killed Off for Real: Picky-Picky in Ramona Forever dies quietly of old age. The girls bury him in the back yard and share memories of him.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Yard Ape. He hassles Ramona a lot. He also sticks up for her when she's nearly in tears over her teacher having been mean, and when she's sick with the flu sends her a unique get-well-soon card instead of copying from the blackboard like most of the kids did.
- L Is for Dyslexia: Although it's never mentioned by name or even diagnosed, Ramona's classmate Davy clearly has this.
- Ramona is once told to wait until "a quarter after seven" to walk to school. She thinks this means to leave at 7:25 (since a quarter is worth 25 cents) instead of 7:15, and ends up being late.
- In kindergarten Ramona's told to sit at a particular seat "for the present" which she thinks means a real wrapped gift. She struggles to remain sitting the entire day in anticipation for the supposed present, and is justifiably upset when the teacher finally explains what she meant, ie, "sit here for now", leaving Ramona feeling cheated.
- As noted under Lost Wedding Ring, Ramona finds the ring, but because she was told to sit still and be quiet, she has a moment of To Be Lawful or Good, wondering if she'd get in trouble for speaking up.
- Locked Out of the Loop: Ramona feels upset that no one told her about Aunt Bea marrying Howie's uncle.
- Logic Bomb: Ramona is baffled when her second grade teacher tells her that "there's no such word as 'can't'".
Mrs. Rudge had just said canít. If there was no such word as canít, Mrs. Rudge could not have said there was no such word as canít. Therefore, what Mrs. Rudge had said could not be true.
- Lost Wedding Ring: In Ramona Forever, the wedding ring gets lost because it was stitched to the pillow it was carried on too tightly, and when the bride pulls it loose, it flies into the air and gets lost. Ramona eventually finds it on the heel of the bride's shoe.
- Modesty Shorts: For fourth-grade picture day, Ramona puts on a pair of play shorts under her skirt.
- In-universe in Ramona the Pest, which takes place when Ramona's in kindergarten, Ramona mistakes the lyrics "the dawn's early light" (in the Star Spangled Banner) for "the dawnzer's lee light" and comes to the conclusion that "dawnzer" means "lamp". This leads to her trying to show off her knowledge ("why don't you turn on the dawnzer?"), to the befuddled reactions of her parents and sister.
- Ramona herself is also misunderstood by others in her kindergarten incarnation. "I'd like to make Q's." "Make use of what?" She then wonders what kind of grown-up doesn't know what the letter "Q" is. (The substitute, obviously, because substitutes are stupid - so Ramona thinks at that age)
- Most Writers Are Adults: Averted. When reading the books, it's easy to identify with Ramona in whatever year of life and grade she's currently in.
- Nonstandard Prescription: In the book Ramona Forever, a doctor diagnoses Ramona with "siblingitis" (that is, jealousy over the attention her parents are giving her newborn sister) and hands her father a prescription for more attention.
- "Not Wearing Pants" Dream: In Ramona The Brave, Beezus mentions a recurring dream where she's at school in her underwear and everyone is staring at her.
- Not So Different: Ramona can't stand Bratty Half-Pint Willa Jean's antics for most of the series but won't admit that she used to be a lot like her. In fact, her original role was annoying Henry Huggins in a similar way. A sign that Ramona is growing up in Ramona Forever is that fact that she acknowledges this and starts to sympathize with Willa Jean.
- Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep: Recited by Ramona after burying Picky Picky. Beezus replies, "That's not right. You're not the one who's being buried." Ramona simply starts over with, "Now we lay Picky Picky down to sleep..."
- Obvious Pregnancy: In Ramona Forever, Beezus figures out that Mrs. Quimby is pregnant well before Mrs. Quimby announces this to the girls. Beezus notices that Mrs. Quimby has experienced Morning Sickness, that Aunt Beatrice is constantly asking how she's feeling, that she seems more tired than usual, and that her work uniform is starting to get tight at the waist.
- Parents as People: The adults are fleshed out too, and have their own problems. Ramona's parents deal with on-and-off unemployment and dislike of their jobs, along with other adult problems. As the story is told from Ramona's perspective, we only know what she knows about their lives, but she knows enough to be aware of these things.
- Poke the Poodle: In Ramona the Brave, where she's 6, Ramona is so angry she threatens to say a bad word. So she shouts "GUTS!" at the top of her lungs again and again, and rather than get in trouble, she gets laughed at.
- Precocious Crush: Beezus gets one on her fourth grade teacher. Ramona ends up meeting him when she has to borrow a stapler, immediately takes a liking to him because he treats her like a real person, and decides she'd probably have one on him too if she were in his class.
- Raised by Grandparents: Word of God says that Mr. Quimby's grandmother raised him. He says this outright in the tv show.
- Relationship-Salvaging Disaster: A platonic example in Ramona Forever. After Beezus and Ramona have a fight that ends with Beezus calling her a "hateful little creep", it takes the death of Picky Picky to bring them back together again.
- Sadist Teacher: Ramona's first grade teacher Mrs. Griggs is a very mild example of this. It's not entirely clear whether she dislikes Ramona personally or is just an unfriendly person, but she does deliberately embarrass Ramona in front of the class a few times. She doesn't have any 'nice' moments either.
- Mrs. Griggs was also Beezus' first grade teacher, and Beezus got along with her just fine. She says that Mrs. Griggs wasn't a very exciting teacher, but she wasn't mean either. Beezus also says, "I was the kind of child she liked. You know ... neat and dependable." This seems to suggest that Ramona's problems with Mrs. Griggs are the result of a personality clash rather than outright meanness on Mrs. Griggs' part.
- Serious Business: Much of the drama in the books may be seen this way from an adult perspective, but as noted above, it's justified in-universe because a lot of minor-in-the-big-scheme-of-things stuff is Serious Business when you're a kid.
- Sibling Yin-Yang: Lively, excitable and energetic Ramona's constant clashes with her level-headed, obedient, and polite older sister are a major source of strife.
- Slice of Life: A big part of why the books are so much fun!
- Sliding Scale of Silliness Versus Seriousness: Largely in the middle. There's a lot of humor that comes from the situations Ramona gets into as well as her thoughts and views on things, but also a lot of drama coming from Ramona's dealing with the world and problems in her life from a child's eye perspective (e.g. her frustration at people not taking her seriously and laughing at her unintentional malapropisms in the younger stories, getting in trouble for things she didn't mean to do - this stuff is devastating to a little kid!). The stories are neither very silly nor very serious, and do a good job of balancing humor with drama. As Ramona gets older, the focus does swing closer to drama, but still remains in the center.
- Spin-Off: The series is one, from Cleary's earlier Henry Huggins books.
- Stock Yuck: Tongue. There's a scene where Ramona and Beezus are eating it and thinking it's steak (Mrs. Quimby had covered it in gravy), and once they realize what it is are horrified. Back in the days the Ramona series was written, tongue was widely available, a very cheap cut of beef, and kids of that era were actually subjected to it. (Today you're more likely to find it in ethnic markets and Mexican tacos del lingua than western grocery stores.)
- To Be Lawful or Good: There are several instances where Ramona comes to realize that doing the right thing might mean getting in trouble. Should she help Davy, who's struggling with his writing, or "keep [her] eyes on [her] own paper" like the teacher said? When instructed to be quiet and stay in place during a wedding, should she point out where the missing wedding ring is that everyone's looking for, or just keep quiet like she was told to and therefore prolong the search?
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Beezus is the tomboy to her best friend Mary Jane's girly girl. In Ramona's World, Ramona is the tomboy to Daisy's girly girl.
- Unreliable Illustrator: In the reissues with the new artist, the picture doesn't completely match what the text says in a few instances when characters are specifically described wearing a certain outfit, and the illustration contradicts it. This includes modernization - for example, Ramona is said to use rollerskates, but the illustration depicts rollerblades, which are more modern.
- Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Averted in these and the Henry Huggins series; they all explicitly take place in Portland, Oregon (Cleary's former hometown). Local streets, including Klickitat, and landmarks (as well as Mount Hood) are mentioned, and the city of Portland responded by placing statues of the characters in a park. The two Ellen Tebbits books take place on the other side of Portland.
- Your Other Left / Who's on First?: "Do I turn left?"/"Right" happens in Ramona and Her Mother, when Beezus is giving her mother directions to get to the hairstylist's.