This scrappy little kid opened a whole new world for some girls. Back in grade 5, I told a girl in my class named Jenny that I liked her hair because it was cut like Ramona Quimby’s. Earned me a small smile and a followup punch in the chest. Sigh. So romantic.
In 1955, Ramona Quimby, a near American cousin of Pippi Longstocking, tumbled into the picture, all scraped knees and exuberant doodles. She and her creator, author Beverly Cleary, united with Pippi and Lindgren in literary confederation, bright beacons for little girls who have been variously told they are too much: too loud or pesky or hyperactive. Upon a cursory read, it might be tempting to describe Ramona as mischievous, but Cleary herself has protested against this accusation, and with good reason. Ramona loves the world with ferocity; she does not so much want to disturb it as she yearns to discover, to turn it over, examine every piece and crook and marvel at why each creature, commodity, and substance exists the way it does. “She was a girl who could not wait. Life was so interesting she had to find out what happened next,” explains Cleary in Ramona the Pest.
But when put in practice, Ramona’s philosophy stirs controversy, and all too frequently the intrepid heroine contends with indictments of her disposition. Her demure, long-suffering older sister, Beatrice— dubbed “Beezus” by Ramona when she is learning to speak— lobs them at her regularly. “Beezus felt that the biggest trouble with four-year-old Ramona was that she was just plain exasperating,” writes Cleary at the start of the series’ first book, Beezus and Ramona. “If Ramona drank lemonade through a straw, she blew into the straw as hard as she could to see what would happen. If she played with her finger paints in the front yard, she wiped her hands on the neighbors’ cat.”