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.