I grew up on a steady diet of Beverly Cleary's Ramona Quimby, John Bellairs' Johnny Dixon and Donald J. Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown. Toss in some books by Louise Fitzhugh, Judy Blume, E.B. White, and Zilpha Keatley Snyder and you have the first five or so years of my life as a independent reader. As soon as I started having children, I wanted to make sure they got to read the same books that I loved. In fact, shortly after I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter, I joined a children's book club. It was probably jumping the gun a bit, but I knew it would take years to amass a collection that would give us plenty to read in between library trips.
Ramona Quimby has got to be one of the best children's book characters of all time. In Beezus and Ramona, you see her as a irrascible preschooler who is in constant mischief mode. In Ramona the Pest, Cleary started writing with Ramona's point of view instead of Beezus's, which probably saved the series right there. Beezus is kind of a wet blanket. Then Ramona became more than just comic relief and a source of ideas for wreaking havoc. She became relatable. I read Ramona Quimby, Age 8 when I was eight years old and I felt like she and I were actually twins separated at birth. Cleary obviously knows kids. Cleary's other books are just as well-written, with children who act and think like children. Sounds obvious, but some authors either make the children so over-the-top ridiculous (can we say Junie B. Jones?) or too saccharinely sweet to tolerate (I hate to point fingers, Babysitters Club).
With all this praise for Ramona Quimby, let me tell you about some books that nearly reach the Ramona pedestal. Sara Pennypacker's new series about a girl named Clementine has hit our house full-force and taken over story time every single evening. Her first book, appropriately named Clementine, introduces us to this curly-haired little girl who is allergic to sitting still, calls her little brother vegetable names, lives in an apartment building her father manages, and tolerates the hoity-toity attitude of her friend, Margaret. It's told from Clementine, first person, and right off the bat she tells the story of how Margaret chops off part of her own hair in an attempt to get glue out of it, but ends up whacking her hair to bits. Clementine offers to help by coloring hair back onto her head with permanent markers. Margaret's mother is thrilled, as you can imagine.
Clementine is so well-meaning and her ideas make so much sense to her when they pop into her brain, but she ends up in the principal's office more often than not (sometimes at her own request) and her parents end up exasperated. Clementine is eight years old and sometimes I think, "She's too old for some of these stunts. She should know better." Then again, didn't you know kids at that age that were doing things like gluing bottle tops to the bottoms of their shoes? Oh wait, that's in The Talented Clementine. I won't say any more to ruin the story for you.
The fact is, Clementine is so funny, so likeable, so readable, that you forgive anything that seems a bit over-the-top. Our entire family would congregate on my bed to read another chapter and see what she was going to do next. I can't say whether or not she is as relatable to eight-year-olds as Ramona was to me, oh so many moons ago, but she sure is worth reading. There are only three books out so far, but I know what I'll be on the lookout for whenever there's a book sale. These are going in the permanent collection.