Beverly Cleary Writes the Books About Us

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Katherine Willoughby

Staff Writer

Katherine Willoughby lives is Richmond, Virginia and teaches Junior Kindergarten at the same school where she discovered her love of reading. When she is not in the classroom, Katherine enjoys building wooden train layouts with her three-year-old son, playing board games while drinking IPA’s with her husband, and taking part in pub trivia. Read Across America Day is her favorite holiday!

When Beverly Cleary worked as a children’s librarian, one little boy kept asking, “Where are the books about us?” In response to this question, Beverly Cleary books were written about regular kids: Ellen Tebbits, Henry Huggins, Otis Spofford, and Ramona and Beezus Quimby, to name a few.

As a child, I really did believe that Ramona and I were almost the same person. If you placed us in a Venn diagram, the center part would be full of similarities. We both had short, straight brown hair with bangs, attended a red brick school building, had best friends who were neighborhood boys, and longed to be left alone to read at the end of the school day. I even searched out Klickitat Street in Portland when I was nine years old on a family vacation to the West Coast.

I recently revisited Ramona and checked out some of my favorite books about the kids on Klickitat street from the library. While reading, I found that Ramona’s parents sounded very familiar. This caused my very grown-up self to question, “Is Beverly Cleary still writing the books about us?”

In some of the Beverly Cleary books about Ramona, Mrs. Quimby is a stay-at-home-mom, and in others she works full-time as a receptionist at a doctor’s office. In both roles, Mrs. Quimby does not seem like the kind of mother who would create bento box lunches or Pinterest-inspired fairy-themed birthday parties for her girls. Instead, we see her doing all of the little things that moms do every morning as they see their families out the door and off to work and school.

In Ramona and her Mother, Mrs. Quimby looks at all of the breakfast dishes in the sink and wistfully laments, “So am I tired of being sensible all the time…Once in awhile, I would like to do something that isn’t sensible.” I, too, dream of doing insensible things. I wistfully consider putting a teal stripe in my hair or driving my son to school, calling in sick at work, and sneaking back home to read in bed all day while eating Zapp’s chips.

Another moment in the book sees Mrs. Quimby preparing a brunch for the neighbors and giving Ramona a “you-do-it-or-you’ll-catch-it look.” The narrator tells us, “Mrs. Quimby was not at her best when about to serve a meal to a living room full of guests.” I am guilty of this, as well. Do not talk to me while I’m trying to prepare a cheese plate, open a bottle of wine, refresh the recipe on my iPhone that doesn’t recognize my sticky fingers, and remind my son to stop racing Jackson Storm and Lightning McQueen around the kitchen.

The Quimby kitchen is the scene of one of the most realistic, domestic quarrels I have ever read. The family returns home after long days at school, the babysitter’s house, and work, only to discover that someone forgot to plug in the Crockpot. An argument between Mr. and Mrs. Quimby ensues.  Who forgot to plug in the Crockpot? Who didn’t buy extra groceries? Whose grandmother made better pancakes and gave better advice? The argument comes to a head as Mrs. Quimby gives her husband a “swat on the seat of his pants with the pancake turner” before storming out of the room. All of this takes place while the children watch, listen, and pray for their parents to be nice to each other.

What wife has not had a ridiculous fight with her husband in front of her children? While my husband and I usually go together like coffee and cream, we often bicker about whether or not to add red pepper flakes or peas to the Spaghetti Carbonara recipe. We argue about how to fold socks (who folds socks? They can’t get wrinkled!), where to put dirty clothes (in the hamper, please), and whether recycling is really helping or hurting the environment (he watched one documentary about recycling and is now an expert).

My son has witnessed the verbal equivalent of a light swat with a pancake turner many times. After the Quimby fight, Mrs. Quimby soothes Ramona’s anxieties by reassuring her that, “We were just tired is all. We had one of those days when everything seems to go wrong…I went to bed and read and your father watched television. That was all there was to it.” Those two simple sentences still put my mind at ease.

Grown-up me thanks you, Beverly Cleary, for writing the books about us! What are your favorite Beverly Cleary books?

Beverly Cleary celebrates her 102nd birthday on April 12, 2018.