The two books I have chosen
for analysis are HENRY HUGGINS, Cleary’s first book published in 1950, and RAMONA’S WORLD, Cleary’s most
recent book published in 1999.
HENRY HUGGINS is a collection
of six stories about a third-grade boy who often thought, “I wish something exciting would happen.” In fact, interesting
things do happen to Henry, beginning with finding a dog in a drugstore. Cleary has created a believable character who, in
typical fashion for a young boy, gets himself into scrapes without even trying. In this book, Henry gets to ride in a police
car, “grows” gallons of guppies, catches over 1300 night crawlers, and manages to get himself painted green and
his dog turned pink. Readers of all ages are captivated by his antics and sympathize with him in his problems, all the while
chuckling at the humorous sequence of events. A review in Publisher’s Weekly remarks that Cleary’s writing “can
amuse as well as tug at the heart.”
When Cleary wrote HENRY HUGGINS,
she created a four-year old little sister of Beezus, a friend of Henry’s. Her name was Ramona. Cleary continued to write
about Beezus, but did not write about Ramona for thirteen years. She knew that the next logical step for Ramona would be kindergarten;
but Cleary had never attended kindergarten, so she did not feel qualified to write about a child in that grade. Then her twins
went to kindergarten, talked about their experiences over the dinner table, and Cleary knew she had enough information to
write about Ramona. Cleary went on to write eight more books about Ramona, the first seven of which develop this character
into, perhaps, the most beloved of all she has created. Cleary’s last book about Ramona is RAMONA’S WORLD, in
which Ramona enters fourth grade.
RAMONA’S WORLD begins
with Ramona excited about attending school so that she can tell everyone about her new baby sister. She believes, as most
optimistic nine-year-old girls that, “The fourth grade was going to be the best year of her life, so far.” True
to life, she has both good and bad experiences. Her teacher corrects her spelling in front of the whole class, she makes a
new best friend (Daisy), and survives falling through the ceiling in Daisy’s house. She writes a letter to a newspaper
advertiser to point out their poor spelling and grammar and actually got a reply back. She is embarrassed about making a funny
face for her school picture. She also baby sits for the first time for her little sister who gets her head stuck in the cat
condo. She writes a special valentine to a boy she has a crush on, and he wrote her a poem! The book ends with Ramona’s
tenth birthday, which she calls her “zeroteenth.” She says, “And I’m a potential grown up!”
School Library Journal says,
“Irrepressible as always, [Ramona] does not fail to satisfy with her antics.” In another review, SLJ says, “The
story is so well written . . . that readers escape into the text.” This writer disagrees, however, and thinks that RAMONA
FOREVER is a dull rendition of a “typical fourth grader of the nineties.” Cleary has clearly lost touch with generational
changes. Contemporary fourth graders would not play dress-up, and ninth graders would not be attending their first boy/girl
party. Hornbook magazine agrees, saying, “This latest book about Ramona lacks the immediacy and tart style of its predecessors;
Cleary here seems intent upon making Ramona (and Beezus) more typical than individualized, and while fans may welcome this
Ramona redux, it’s disappointing to see how innocuous she’s become.”
HENRY HUGGINS has all the
elements that make up superior contemporary realistic fiction. The characters (Henry, in particular, but also his parents
and friends) are well developed, and they (as well as the situations they find themselves in) are true to life. In the final
chapter, where Ribsy is trying to decide if he will stay with Henry or go with his original owner, the reader is not sure
until the very end which way the dog will go. Even though the story is set in the 1950s, children still can relate to the
scrapes Henry finds himself in, the way he loves his dog, loathes being in school plays, wants to earn money to buy a real
football, and wants to prove that his dog is the best.
In RAMONA’S WORLD,
not all of these elements are present. As mentioned above, even though Cleary describes Ramona’s personality and speaks
of Ramona’s sometimes unruly behavior, she seems all too quiet. Not all of the events are quite believable. However,
young girls will still chuckle at Ramona’s falling through the attic floor, understand when she makes a face just as
the photographer snaps her school picture, and identify with her elation at finally turning ten years old.
Cleary has been and still
is such a beloved children’s author that a few shortfalls in her latest book can be forgiven. The fact that she was
eighty-three years old when she wrote RAMONA’S WORLD is amazing in itself. This, combined with knowledge of her previous
wonderful books, does not lower the pedestal she is on at all. It probably does mean, however, that she should simply enjoy
Beverly, 1950. HENRY HUGGINS. New York: William Morrow and Company,
1999. RAMONA’S WORLD. New York: HarperCollins Children’s Books.
Weekly, 2001. Book Review. Publisher’s Weekly, May 14. In Bowker’s
Books In Print, [database online]. Available from http://ezproxy.twu:2123/merge_shared/details/details.asp. Accessed 09 March 05.
Book Guide. 2000. Book review. Horn Book Magazine, April. In Bowker’s Books
In Print [database online]. Available from http://ezproxy.twu:2123/merge_shared/details/details.asp. Accessed 09 March 05.
Library Journal. 1999. School Library
Journal, August. In Bowker’s Books In Print [database online]. Available from http://ezproxy.twu:2123/merge_shared/details/details.asp. Accessed 09 March 05.