Ramona Quimby featured in the books of Beverley Cleary for nearly fifty years. We first met her as a young pest, watched her become brave, then, by 1977, saw her mature into an empathetic, if dramatically stubborn seven year old. This seventh story focuses on Ramona’s relationship with her father as he loses his job and is left in charge of Ramona and her sister while her mum becomes the breadwinner.
‘What about Christmas?’ she asked her mother.
Right now Christmas is the least of our worries.’ Mrs Quimby looked sadder than Ramona had ever seen her.’
Mr Quimby becomes depressed and she decides to help out – firstly crossing out everything on her Christmas list, including a ginny pig, then attempting to become a million dollar star of TV adverts. Finally she offers to help him give up smoking.
By the time Christmas comes around she finds herself falling back into selfish bad habits, volunteering for the nativity without thinking of her overstretched parents.
‘Ramona now wished she had waited until after Christmas to persuade her father to give up smoking. Then maybe he would be nice to his little girl when she needed a sheep costume.’
Beverley Cleary wrote with the intention of producing books that reflected the real lives of American children, which she believed were overshadowed by British children’s literature. The books she produced achieved that and more, remaining popular in this, the author’s 104th year.
Like Dorothy Edwards’s My Naughty Little Sister, Ramona is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’, just a real girl trying to find her place in a world where she always feels she is playing catch up to her big sister Beatrice (or Beezus).
‘Beatrice Quimby,’ said Mrs Russo, ‘would you like to be Mary?’
This question made Ramona unhook her heels and sit up. Her sister, grouchy old Beezus – Mary?
Ramona couldn’t get over it. her sister playing the part of Mary, mother of the baby Jesus, and getting to sit up there on the chancel with that manger they got out every year.’
Ramona is so keen that she invents the role of sheep – to the consternation of her parents who are either too absent or unable to help her produce the woolly costume she so desires. She returns to church in high dudgeon, dressed in flappy ears and a lumpy Terry cloth tail sewn to a pair of pyjamas. ‘A sheep should not be printed with pink bunnies,’ she wails.
But the arrival of a trio of older girls presents Ramona with an opportunity to shine after all.
‘Are you Jesus’s aunts?’ she asked.
The girls found the question funny. ‘No,’ answered one. ‘We’re the Three Wise Persons.
Ramona was puzzled. ‘I thought they were supposed to be wise men,’ she said.
‘The boys backed out at the last minute,’ explained the girl with the blackest eyebrows. ‘Mrs Russo said women can be wise too, so tonight we are the Three Wise Persons.’
So Ramona is taken to the kitchen where mascara is hurriedly applied to her nose, and she takes to the stage feeling so confident, ‘she could almost pretend she was woolly.’ Ramona steals the show of course and gets the one thing left on her Christmas list – One happy family.
Ramona could not contain her feelings. ‘B-a-a,’ she bleated joyfully.
She felt the nudge of a shepherd’s crook on the seat of her pyjamas and heard her shepherd whisper through clenched teeth, ‘You be quiet!’ Ramona did not bleat again. She wiggled her seat to make her tail wag.
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