In this occasional series we look back at our first pop culture loves.
When I was 5 years old I put my rubber baby doll in the oven and tried to melt her.
Fortunately my mom discovered my scheme quite quickly, preventing a charred doll and possible fire. But I’ve never lived it down.
Rereading Beezus and Ramona for the first time since childhood this week, I recognized many of my early memories in the pages of the tattered orange paperback I’ve kept all these years.
Not only the baby-melting incident, but “powdering my nose” with marshmallows at a campfire when I was 7 and constant outbursts of “It’s not fair!”
Ramona was my childhood hero, a miniature idol with a pageboy haircut.
Long before I could make sense of the lines on the pages, my mom would read aloud from the Ramona books.
Except, of course, when I pulled some sort of Ramona-inspired stunt, which would sometimes result in withholding story hour, one of the worse punishments I could imagine.
Her adventures and misadventures, captured between the covers of Cleary’s eight books, were one of my first introductions to the magic of fiction.
She was sassy, spunky and, like me, had a huge imagination.
She pulled around an imaginary green dragon named Ralph by a real leash and wasn’t afraid to be a pest.
She wore overalls instead of dresses, rode her tricycle everywhere and she didn’t take no for an answer.
So tight was her grip on me that when I read the seventh book, Ramona Forever, where Ramona’s mother is pregnant with a baby sister, I had a vivid dream that I was also going to have a new baby sister and remember feeling a sharp pang of regret when I realized it was just in a book.
Reading the first book in the series, Beezus and Ramona, I still find it a sweet, relatable story.
The jealousy between 4-year-old Ramona and her 9-year-old big sister, Beezus, is something anyone can appreciate. The funnier moments, like when Ramona takes one bite out of each apple in the basement, still brought a smile to my face.
Parts of the novel seem very dated now, a pre-computer world full of jacks, tiddlywinks, autograph albums and mothers who don’t work outside the home.
But the story, like Ramona herself, has a timeless quality.
It’s told in a clear, respectful way. Rather than talking down to kids, Cleary seems to inhabit a child’s voice, from Ramona’s “indignity” at having her hair washed to the tragic demise of Beezus’s birthday cake.
I was surprised the story is told from Beezus’s point of view, as an exasperated older sister fed up with her mischievous younger sibling. I remembered Ramona was the sun around which the fictional solar system orbited.
As an adult I find myself sympathizing more with Beezus, envying her little sister’s boundless imagination and creativity, her ability to come up with paintings that were tacked in the centre, not the corner, of the wall at art class.
Beezus and Ramona isn’t something I would probably pick up again, the strong pull of nostalgia aside. But I would definitely recommend it to anyone with kids — especially fearless little girls in need of an anti-princess heroine.