Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Beverly Cleary Reading Challenge: Part 1

In celebration of Beverly Cleary’s 91st birthday, I am challenging myself to read all of her books by her birthday, April 12. It’s been an interesting experience, to say the least.

I’m particularly intrigued by the fact that I find some of the details to be very old fashioned. However, I read almost all of Cleary’s books when I was a child, and I don’t remember thinking that way. They were just fun stories to read.

I’m not giving full-blown reviews; just my impressions. Some of my impressions may read like I am mocking the books. I love every one of the books I have reread and read so far. It has really been a treat to go back and revisit these books. But some details are just too cute and funny to not point out. I wouldn’t have these books changed or updated (the very thought!) for the world.

I began the challenge by reading the Henry Huggins books, in no particular order (whatever I grabbed at 4:50 a few weeks ago).

Henry and Beezus

What I remembered from the book: not much
What I should have remembered: The Henry Huggins books introduce Ramona. It also introduces Mary Jane, Beezus’s stuck up frenemy. Beatrice is much more patient with Ramona in this book than she is in the (non Henry Huggins) books starring Ramona as a very young child.
Favorite scene: The Double Bubble Gum scenes. Once I began reading this section, I instantly remembered reading it. When you are eight, you dream of stuff like this. Henry finds 49 boxes of bubble gum in the bushes. He becomes the most popular kid at school when he sells the gum at school. However, the kids get sick of the gum, and Henry begins to slash prices, offer deals…but no dice. His get rich quick opportunity is over.
What I love about this scene: Had this been a modern day novel, something Very, Very Serious or Bad would have happened to the children. The teacher gets fussy about the gum being chewed in class, and the parents do know who threw away the gum. But in 1954, no one was particularly concerned about children consuming mass quantities of gum founded stashed in bushes (yes, the adults knew). Apparently.

Henry and Ribsy

What I remembered from the book: not a lot
What I should have remembered: Ribsy is fed horsemeat. Henry catches a big fish with his bare hands.
Favorite scene: There’s quite a few in this one. When the family car is at the mechanic’s shop, Henry is allowed to sit in the car while it’s being worked on. I’m fairly certain this is illegal now. In another scene, Henry’s mother gives him an awful haircut (unintentionally, of course). Henry is quite upset and says he can’t go to school looking the way he does. To quote: “I’ll have to stay home. I’ll get behind in arithmetic and I won’t know the folk dances and-“
I literally laughed out loud. Longer than I should have, in fact. I can understand the distress about getting behind in arithmetic. I’m totally with him on that account. Missing folk dance instruction? You got me there, Huggins.
Another interesting scene: Ramona is having a fit, which is par the course for most of her appearances in the Henry Huggins books. The PTA mothers think that she is scared of Ribsy. However, Ramona has Ribsy’s bone in her lunch box, and she won’t give it back. When one mother rightfully calls Ramona “a perfect little terror,” another mother replies that “just because the poor little thing is too young to have acceptable behavior patterns doesn’t mean we can let her be terrified of the dog.” Going from something very old-fashioned to something that sounds like a phrase used today.

Henry and the Clubhouse

What I remembered from the book: nada
What I should have remembered: Ramona and Beezus save Henry from being locked in the clubhouse.
Favorite scene: A neighbor needs to bring a bathtub to the dumpster. Henry is allowed to ride in the bathtub. Again, totally illegal nowadays.

Emily’s Runaway Imagination

What I remembered before reading: I don’t think I ever read this one.
What I should have remembered: n/a
Favorite scene: Not much happens at the beginning of the book. The real excitement begins when Emily’s mother starts making plans for the town to have a library (this is a very small town in the 1920s, I’m guessing). Coin by coin, funds are built. Finally, the very small library is ready, and it’s a big hit.
On opening day, a young boy asks for permission to borrow books. He has walked several miles from his home; his family saw the announcement in the paper. He selects books for his parents, younger sibling, and himself.
Before I read this section, I was pretty ambivalent about the book. But the excitement over the library suckered me in. Awww. If you've read Beverly Cleary's memoirs, you'll know that Beverly Cleary's childhood hometown did not have a library until her mother started the foundation for a library and became the town librarian, as does Emily's mother in this book.

Ellen Tebbits

What I remembered before reading: Ellen attends ballet class, meets a girl named Austine, and some dancing around a Maypole. I thought the skipping around the Maypole in a fancy costume while holding on to a long piece of ribbon would be so cool (I was a girly dance-obsessed child.).
What I should have remembered: Ellen’s mother makes her wear long underwear. That’s not the main thing, however. The dancing around the Maypole occurs at the end of a school production. It’s the Pied Piper story….well, not so much.

“Ellen was puzzled. ‘My mother read me the story and it wasn’t that way. The Piper didn’t bring the children back.’
‘I know,’ said Mrs. Gitler, ‘but this is a creative play and we have changed the story so we can use the Maypole dance at the end.”

Ow. Ow. My sides. Should I laugh or be indignant that the teacher changed the ending to a folktale (not that she wasn’t the first to change the Pied Piper story).

Well, if you have a Maypole sitting around, I guess you have to find some use for it. I do feel some sympathy, however, for any teacher with the last name of Gitler.

I'll have more impressions in a few days. I'm currently rereading Dear Mr. Henshaw, which is quite unlike anything else Beverly Cleary wrote, and won a well deserved Newbery Medal in 1984.

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