I was a child of the 1970s, so I grew up on a steady diet of Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. I don’t remember a lot of specifics from all of their books, but I knew that at some point my girls would be introduced to the classics of these two awesome authors.
Last Hanukkah, J got the complete set of Ramona books. I knew that she was able to read them at 5 1/2 , but I wasn’t sure how much she would actually like them. Fast forward 6 months and she absolutely adores them. At this point, we are four books into the series and I get excited announcements of what is happening in each book.
If you are unfamiliar with this series, the stories are primarily about Ramona Quimby and her older sister Beezus. You initially meet them when Ramona is 4 and Beezus is 9 in the book Beezus and Ramona. This is the only book in the series that is told from the point of view of Beezus, as the series actually grew out of the Henry Huggins series, in which Henry had a friend named Beezus who also had a little sister. In Beezus and Ramona, Beezus is exasperated by her younger sister who is full of imagination and always wants to be in on the action. The series follows Ramona until she is in the 4th grade, and as she gets older, so do the issues that she deals with. Wikipedia does a great job of summarizing each of the books, so if you are interested in that, just click here.
There are so many things to love about the Ramona books. From a parent’s perspective, I really appreciate that the books are well written and that the characters feel real. It is important for kids to relate to the characters in the books that they read, and Ramona is a normal kid with moments of bad behavior due to her impulsive nature, realistic fears and wonderful triumphs. When she misbehaves, unlike in the Junie B. Jones books, she gets reprimanded. My daughter likes to tell me all of the “bad” things that she did. Reading these books, I feel that there is a certain depth that is lacking from a lot of today’s children’s literature. Even though they were written many years ago, Beezus and Ramona was written in 1955, they remain fresh and alive.
The first few books are somewhat light as Ramona is younger in them. At age 4, she frustrates her sister. At age 5, she is trying her hardest to behave in kindergarten when she has already been labeled a “pest.” By the time she is 6, she longs to be brave and grown-up, but she isn’t quite there on either front. As we get through the current book, where she is 7, Ramona is starting to deal with some major issues – her father has lost his job which puts stress on everyone, the family is struggling to make ends meet so even their cat has to eat the cheap cat food, and she has just learned that smoking can kill you, so she is on a mission to get her father to stop his habit. These are weighty issues that get handled with complete grace by Ms. Cleary.
From my daughter’s perspective, she loves these books because Ramona is just like her in many ways. When J started reading Ramona the Brave, she raced out of her room to tell me that Ramona was starting 1st grade, just like her! All of the classroom experiences that Ramona is having are things that she has gone through. The mistakes that Ramona makes are similar to ones that she makes.
When I asked for specifics about Ramona the Brave (the most recently finished of the series) I got that “I like her because she seems so brave and she’s just a first grader.” When I asked what she was brave about, J told me that “she had to be brave about going in front of the whole class to apologize to Susan for crumpling her owl.” Apparently, Ramona had thought that Susan was designing her owl exactly like Ramona’s and in a fit of anger, she crumpled it after Susan got to show it to the class before Ramona showed hers. Jealousy can be a really difficult thing for kids to understand. J also told me that she really liked “the funny part when a dog stole her shoe because she was going a different way to school. She was a little scared of the dog and the only weapon she had was her shoe, so she threw it at him.”
Ramona and J are both full of spunk and this is a wonderful way for kids to get their fill of realistic fiction. Amazon lists these books for ages 8 and up, but I think they are perfect for a precocious 6 year old.