Inspired by this piece, which commemorates Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday on April 12, I wanted to try and write about what Beverly Cleary and her books meant to me as a kid. I can tell that her works were so ingrained into my childhood because I can’t remember how I was introduced to her books or when I started reading them. All I recall are the constant rereads, which were also common with the works of Judy Blume, Andrew Clements, and Ann M. Martin.
Somewhere along the line, I read books like Henry Huggins, Socks, and Ellen Tebbits (I have very strong memories of my mother’s old copy on the shelf and Ellen’s encounter with a beet), but my allegiance rested strongly with the Ramona books. Like with Blume’s Fudge books, I read the Ramona stories over and over again.
I couldn’t tell you why these books appealed to me. I feel like I reread so many of the same books as a kid because, frankly, there wasn’t much else for me to do. Perhaps heroines like Ramona stuck out to me because, up until her last story, she didn’t have many close friends and lived very much in her own world. Characters like that comforted me as a kid because I was very much the same way. I preferred to live in a dream world where I had control and power rather than stay in the real world, where I was shy and self-conscious, and rejoiced when our gym teacher randomly picked teams instead of letting the captains select who they wanted (there should seriously be a society for all those kids always picked last in gym class).
Apart from the Harry Potter books, I was never a huge reader of fantasy when I was younger. Something about realistic fiction and stories set in Any Town, USA, spoke to me, as if it was reassurance that there were people out there like me also plopped into slow, small towns where they didn’t quite fit.
“She was not a slowpoke grownup. She was a girl who could not wait. Life was so interesting she had to find out what happened next.”
― Beverly Cleary,
Beverly Cleary provided me with an escapism that was plausible – seeing Ramona content with her family in a warm, loving house reminded me that I had that as well, and that, in the end, I’d be fine if I had that in my life.
There are still parts of that elementary schooler present in me today. I’m naturally a shy and quiet person, but I’ve gotten so much better since starting college. I still get incredibly nervous meeting new people (re: me before my semester abroad and waiting to learn the names of the strangers I’d be living with), and overcrowded social situations, especially with people I don’t know well, are not my thing at all. But, if anything, I live more in the present than in a dream world now, focusing on things I have to do to better myself and prepare for my future.
With these active decisions towards my future bouncing around my mind, I keep those childhood book characters close. I definitely don’t think of them very much now, but their influences – some of which created by Beverly Clearly – linger.