I recently read my very own childhood copy of Ramona and Her Father with my 7 year old daughter only to find out why–of all the books I could have kept, all those Sweet Valley Highs, the Judy Blumes, The Cat Ate My Gymsuit–why oh why I had let those paperbacks go and held on to this one? Held on tight, through a tween bedroom renovation, a dismissive move to college, the sale of my childhood home, an event equal in my mind to a house fire burning to a crisp my most prized possessions, stealing from me my cheerleading jacket, my Michael Jackson Human Nature poster, the unsavory letters from some unsavory guy I met at the mall movie theater. So, maybe not all of those things were worth saving. But why did I take Ramona and Her Father when I can hardly remember reading it in the first place?
Was it that the writing is pitch-perfect? No. I mean it is pitch-perfect and the tone is special and the voice-ah! I can hear this child better than I can hear my own, I swear. But that is not why I kept it. It took me a while to find out why because my 7 year old will often interrupt a week of perfectly good and bonding bedtime reading with a few Rainbow Fairies books and the occasional Archie comic. So it took. a. while. But then just when I started to wonder how I ever had the attention span for Cleary’s unique narrative voice, for the time she takes to set a scene when I race through these in adulthood, even when I’m the one writing them. Well, just at that moment, there was the reason why.
Ramona is fed up, her mother is swamped and exhausted, her father is being terribly short with her, and she is a little lost and hurt, until she learns from a surprising source how to make her own tin-can stilts. Well, that is just what she does. And as dusk settles in around her, and her neighborhood tucks itself in, and rain begins to fall, Ramona and Howie just clink-clank their way through it–singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall at the top of their lungs, all the way down to the last can. She comes home much too late and not even her father’s reaction or her sister’s bad mood can change hers now. She’s been lifted up by those tin-can stilts in more ways than one. It is such a moody moment and it captured me, sitting there reading it aloud with my own moody child. I was a moody child, with moody parents. I still am. And I love that Beverly Cleary acknowledged that, validated it, and likely healed me with those tin-can stilts the same way she healed Ramona that evening.
This is why I write books for kids and why I want to write about books for kids here. The best ones stay with us, lifting us up even after all these years.