Beverly the Problem

Bookslut reports that Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series is going to be turned into a movie. Cleary was probably my #1 favorite writer as a kid, and I still consider Ramona the Pest one of the most compelling and memorable kid’s books ever written. My favorite part is the chilling Halloween scene where Ramona puts on a witch’s mask and then freaks out because nobody can tell who she is (identity theory for ten year olds). I also love the part where she learns to turn the letter Q into a drawing of a cat.

Ramona was already butchered once by filmmakers, for a public television series in 1988 (Sarah Polley had the lead role). I have a story to tell about this. I was sitting alone in a bar somewhere in Grand Central Station waiting to catch a train (I know not to where), and I tried to amuse myself by overhearing nearby conversations. This doesn’t usually pay off, but in this case I happened to be sitting near two female public television executives who were talking about the upcoming debut of Ramona. One of them had recently flown Beverly Cleary into New York for the publicity blitz, I overheard, but it was a disaster. The women described Beverly Cleary as looking like a little old librarian, and said she had absolutely no personality or appeal. She was so shy in front of audiences and cameras, in fact, that they decided to send her back home rather than continue to employ her in the publicity blitz for the show.

As a lifelong Cleary-head (though I was in my early 20’s at the time) I was of course enraged at this, and considered sitting down with these women and schooling them in respect for great authors. I didn’t, though, and my story ends there. Ramona will probably flop in the movies just like it did on TV. These books are meant to stay books. And don’t anybody be hating on Beverly, who has damn well earned the right to be as shy as she wants to be.

6 Responses

  1. Dear Mr. Henshaw…I must
    Dear Mr. Henshaw…

    I must have been in third grade. I want to say it was third grade, or else maybe it was second, although I doubt it. Because what I remember most about second grade was reading “Danny, the Champion of the World.” And that was by Roald Dahl, and not Beverly Cleary.

    Although, that was a real good book for a second grade boy to read. Why? Because – if I remember it right – Danny and his Dad go out poaching. Taking birds that don’t belong to them. And that really opens your eyes when you’re that young and to that point had lived a real sheltered life. The idea that anyone around you – even in a book -could do something so obviously illegial (and make it read so bloody exciting!), it really shows you how much bigger the world can be.

    Which is what brings me to my love of one Mrs. Beverly Cleary.

    It was in third grade, I guess, when I first read her book “Dear Mr. Henshaw.” This is a book about some little kid named Leah Botts (a boy), who, as part of a classroom assignment, has to write the author of books that he enjoys. That being the title’s Mr. Henshaw.

    So, he does. And what happens then?

    Mr. Henshaw writes this little kid, this little nobody kid from California, this real life, real time author… he writes this kid back.

    How could that be? When I was that age, I thought (don’t know how, but I did) that writers were at that same social level as rock stars and movie stars. “Normal” people, like me, or like this Leigh Botts kid, we couldn’t reach them, couldn’t touch the golden castles from where they sat, high on turrets looking about, as they turned out the books that filled my little school library.

    Where did this kid, this Leigh Botts, get the BALLS to even try such a thing?

    I was amazed. And, in every way, I was totally jealous of his bravery.

    That book taught me a lot. I’ve probably read it at least 200 times, at various points throughout my life. It also opened my eyes to “epistle fiction,” stories composed via letters, a form I would come to love all the more a few years later, when I first read “Dracula,” by Bram Stoker.

    And it’s funny. Or at least, it’s funny to me. Sometimes you hear folks talk about whether live imitate art, or is it the other way around.

    Leigh Botts, this kid, didn’t really have a Dad at home (his was a trucker who took… sugar beets, I think… all over the country), and kind of… rediscovered his identity through writing to authors, and then writing his own stories.

    At this time in my life, in third grade, I loved to write, and my Dad was my very best friend. The very type of Dad any kid could ever want.

    It was a couple of years later, though, that he and I were coming home from a camping trip when a drunk driver veered onto our side of the road, killing everyone in both cars but me.

    Suddenly, I had as many Dad-issues as Leigh Botts did. And probably quite a few more.

    But, I kept writing. And, after years and years and some very small successes, I tried something new.

    I pitched a story or two to a real magazine – one you could buy at your local bookstore, right now. And one of those stories – the one Mister Editor ultimately wanted – was for me to interview an author / publisher who was doing good work and making many headlines.

    I.e. he had just been on 60 Minutes, in the New York Times, etc.

    And, I did it. The piece published, my confidence boosted, and it set me off on the path I guess I still am on, today. It was the first of a number of things that have seen print, and a continuation of the work I continue to do today.

    My life, my faith, was restored by following the same path that had amazed me so deeply when I was just a kid.

    And for that, I owe so much thanks to one Mrs. Beverly Cleary.

    (P.S. – I don’t know if they are still in print, but Beverly wrote two autobiography / memoir books about her life, that are well-worth tracking down. Written in the same style as her kid’s books, but dealing with wars and all the other hardships she’s endured, here in the real world… the books make you appreciate her vast body of work all the more).

  2. Good to see you back here,
    Good to see you back here, Tupper … and it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my high regard for BC.

  3. Nancy Drew, TooIt’s good to
    Nancy Drew, Too

    It’s good to be back, brooklyn. Not that I ever left. I just don’t talk a whole lot. Perks of the being a wallflower, etc.

    Something else I thought might be relevant to Ramona’s return is the relaunching and repopularizing (Lord, is that even a word?) of the Nancy Drew franchise. There’s a good article about it in the current issue of BUST magazine (on newsstands now), about how they’ve tried to relaunch the Nancy Drew franchise (now 75 years old) by both making her hipper, and still trying to appeal to all the females of the world who grew up reading the adventures of the great girl sleuth.

    The cynical side of me feels like this is just like Hollywood putting out all those GOD AWFUL movies remaking old 70’s TV shows (Dukes of Hazzard, Honeymooners, etc). Now, all the kids (of all ages) who grew up on Beverly Cleary will no doubt want to go see the new Ramona movie. Even if it’s bad, so they can strut like “old school” elitists out of the theaters. Telling little kids who no doubt don’t care that they were there for Ramona, “Before she sold out.”

    The good side of this, though, is the possibility that this “milking season,” will be over soon. That the reading and viewing publics can only take so much nostalgia before they want to puke, and will soon begin to insist on new things, different things.

    And hopefully, BETTER things. You know?

  4. ribsySame woman that wrote

    Same woman that wrote ‘henry and ribsy’ right?

    Yeah, great writer.

    Just like the Cat in the Hat
    CS Lewis
    and even Chicken Little

    The beat goes on….

  5. Yes … actually I think the
    Yes … actually I think the book was just called “Ribsy”, right? It was written completely from the point of view of a dog who gets separated from his owner — an entire book of canine consciousness. Pretty original stuff.

  6. Willtupper, I just read this
    Willtupper, I just read this entry in open-mouthed awe. Thanks for posting it. Who was it that you interviewed, if you don’t mind me asking?

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