“Ramona at Forty”: LA Review of Books

I always knew Beverly Cleary was a great writer. I read every single one of her books growing up — even the lesser-discussed ones like Otis Spofford and Ellen Tebbits with all the angst over something called “long underwear” that was mystifying to me as a kid in the 80s. I read most of them multiple times, and certain, VERY IMPORTANT aspects of those books have stuck with me for life. I still want to make Fong Quock’s rice “so that each grain was separate and fluffy and there was a crisp brown crust on the bottom of the kettle,” I still want to know how Emily’s crust rose through her custard pie for the church potluck, and I still really, really want to squeeze an entire tube of toothpaste into the bathroom sink.

So, yeah, Beverly Cleary: great writer, as certified by 10-year-old me. However, I didn’t realize just how great a writer she was until I reread her books as an adult. Or, more specifically, as a parent.

Cleary is just one example of an author who wrote for a certain age range, but whose writing can benefit and engage the ages beyond. As a kid reader, Mr. and Mrs. Quimby’s worries about money and jobs and childcare was brushed aside by me as “boring parent stuff,” because while Cleary was validating the idea that all kids worry about their parents on some level and while her books could be a way for kids to talk to their parents about these anxieties, I just wanted to get back to Ramona putting burrs in her hair. Now, as an adult re-reader of Beverly Cleary, those bits of the books that I pushed aside as a kid are almost too painful to read as a parent.

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