Growing up, I loved reading. My mother was always reading and made sure that I grew up with that same excitement. One of my favorite authors when I was a child (and now too, who am I kidding?) was Beverly Cleary. I loved reading about the adventures of Ramona and her sister Beezus, Henry Huggins, Howie and all the Klickitat street gang. There was something about her books and the characters that she created that resonated with me. They were just normal kids, in normal families, doing normal things; it was all so relatable and also comforting to see other kids trying so hard to do what was right, but still somehow managing to get into trouble.
I think that spoke to a lot of children. We were finally able to see a real family, a real group of kids, going through real things; from mistaking a hard-boiled egg for a raw egg and having the results coat your hair, to a new baby coming into the family and the pressure to be a good role model. It was real, it was kind, it was comforting.
Sharing the Joy of Ramona
You can imagine my excitement when one of my kindergarteners picked up Ramona and Her Father and asked me if I would read it to the class. Here began one of my happiest moments as a teacher. The children were in love with Ramona!
Soon after I finished that book, I ordered the complete Ramona series and it became a daily activity in our class. We read 2-3 chapters a day as we worked our way through all of Ramona’s adventures.
I was skeptical at first if my students would connect with Ramona the same way I did. The books are older and there were a lot of aspects of the books that the children had no reference for: landline telephones, chalkboards, words like “cross” and “quarrelling.” But whoa, they loved it! It led to so many just great conversations about these pieces that the children didn’t understand. (Hearing them tell each other that “I’m cross with you” when they would disagree will live in my memory forever!)
The children were invested in Ramona and her family and so engaged in each chapter. They grew to love her, to know her, and to look up to her. And because Beverly Cleary showed Ramona and her family going through relatable issues, we were able to have some really beautiful and meaningful discussions.
When Mr. Quimby lost his job and Ramona was thinking of ways to save the family, we had a conversation about money and bills and how it feels when you are food, housing, or financially insecure. Children were able to share their own stories. Beverly Cleary did that. When the Quimby’s cat, Picky-Picky died, we had a beautifully intimate conversation about death – what it means, how we have experienced it, and ways we can carry on the memories of our loved ones. Beverly Cleary did that. When Ramona was embarrassed because she threw up right there in front of everyone, we had a conversation about feeling embarrassed and how we can help others to not feel embarrassed by remembering how we feel when something embarrassing happens to us. Beverly Cleary did that. It made me so happy to not only see my students enjoying Ramona as much as I did, but also to see them connecting her story to their own lives and feeling safe enough to engage in these beautiful, personal and sometimes difficult conversations.
A Beautiful Moment
As we got towards the end of the series (unbelievably fast I might add; the children did not want to stop reading!), we talked about what we could do to thank Beverly Cleary for what she gave us through her books. We thought of letters, pictures, that sort of thing. The children were very excited about this. Especially after we read the special forward in our copy of “Ramona Quimby, Age 8” written by Amy Poehler, where she talks about writing to Beverly Cleary when she was a child and receiving a hand-written response. The letter was included in the book and the children could not wait to possibly get one, too.
When we were about halfway through the last book in the series, I learned that Beverly Cleary had passed away at the age of 104. I knew this would be a tough conversation to have with the children. When we returned to school on Monday, we sat down to read and I let them know what had happened. This led to yet another conversation about death and how we can honor those that have passed. We talked about all the great things that she gave us through her books. How she was from Oregon and we had recognized so many places Ramona went – ”She’s here in Oregon!”
After we finished Ramona’s World, we began talking about what we could do to show our appreciation for this wonderful world on Klickitat Street (“a real street!”) that Beverly Cleary gave us. Beautiful ideas came forth. The children decided to create drawings depicting their favorite parts of the stories and send them to her family so they could know how much she meant to us. The children also were adamant that we name something after her and the gang from Klickitat Street. In the next two weeks, our class will be moving into a new classroom yurt and starting an embryology project where we hatch and raise chickens. Do you know what they did? My kindergarteners, my amazingly kind, sweet, thoughtful and honest students, decided that they wanted to dedicate our new classroom to her: ”The Beverly Cleary Kindergarten Yurt” – and to name our to-be-hatched chickens Ramona and Beezus. I don’t think I have ever been more proud to be their teacher.
Beverly Cleary gave us so much. For me as a child, for my mother as a child, and for children right here, right now. I hope that she truly knows what her and the world that she created meant to all of us. Now, not only do I have the memory of loving her books as a child myself, but I will always have the memory of this beautiful time spent sharing this world with my students.
Thank you Beverly, we will never forget.