The other day, I discovered Ramona and Beezus on HBO On-Demand. I’d dismissed it out of hand when the trailers first started making the rounds, since they were cut to indicate the movie was all about Beezus (and her teen romance). I was surprised at how much I actually ended up enjoying the film, which, in spite of the star-studded cast, still managed to be (80-90%) about Ramona Geraldine Quimby, she who makes her cats into Q’s and likes to tell people what her age is right now. The movie covers a surprising amount of events in the eight-book Ramona oeuvre, in no particular order (and with surely some left out):
If it seems like this is too crowded for a movie, it isn’t. Actually, to my great surprise, Ramona and Beezus felt like exactly what it intended to be: a live-action adaptation of a Ramona book. Beverly Cleary’s books were always a (slightly) organized collection of short stories about a nice, if not financially downtrodden, family from Oregon with a rambunctious younger daughter. The movie manages that nicely, with the bonus of turning Ramona’s imagination into fully illustrated moments of hallucinatory fantasy. It’s a little colorful and heavy-handed, but in its own way, it works.
I was enamored enough of the film, and surprised by how much I remembered from the Ramona stories that I had not read since childhood, that I headed to my library to pick up the series. The books were republished as “reillustrated” editions back in 2006, losing the crude-yet-charming illustrations of my childhood, by Alan Tiegreen. I distinctly recall the way Tiegreen made Ramona’s pinprick eyes seem to be the very essence of sorrow and self-pity. No offense to new illustrator Tracy Dockray, but now the girls seem too cute, too common.
What’s interesting about the Ramona books is how often Ramona is filled with anxiety about the world around her, particularly her family and their various troubles. I don’t recall really picking up on this when I was a child, at least, not to the degree where I thought there was anything that unusual about it. And it’s certainly something I resonate with as an adult. In Ramona Forever, Ramona is supposed to be baby-sat by friend Howie’s grandmother Mrs. Kemp, but ends up watching over Howie’s little sister Willa Jean as she systematically destroys the accordion her uncle gave her. Mrs. Kemp, who was outside with her son and nephew, blames and subsequently shames Ramona for not knowing better, as though she could somehow anticipate what a sassy, rowdy toddler is going to do with a present that is too big for her. Even now as an adult, I can’t get over the injustice of this, that Ramona gets blamed for the misdeeds of Willa Jean, even though she tried to stop her. She is trying so hard to please her parents that she does not tattle. Instead, she observes:
It isn’t fair, Ramona told herself, even though grown-ups were always telling her life was not fair. It wasn’t fair that life wasn’t fair.
Ramona’s observations are occasionally ridiculous and occasionally spot-on. I feel like I relate more to Ramona now as an adult than I did when I was a child.