Friday, April 30, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Ramona's World

Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers, cover by Ramona Kaulitzki

The last Ramona book, and the last new/original book ever published by Beverly Cleary. She was 83 when she wrote this, and it was published 15 years after Ramona Forever!

Ramona is in the 4th grade, Beezus is in high school, and Roberta (born at the end of Ramona Forever) is teething and learning to walk. This is kind of a feel-good book with no big drama, just everyday Ramona problems. It's a nice ending note for the series.

I know an author can't always wrap up all of their work, but I do wonder what Cleary envisioned for her characters' futures. Not just the Quimbys, but everyone in the Cleary universe. It's something nice to daydream about...

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: My Own Two Feet

This is the second installment of Cleary's autobiography, from college to the publication of Henry Huggins. Her life was so interesting. After working her way through junior college and college during the Depression, she puts herself through graduate school studying library science. Cleary works for a year as a children's librarian, then works for several years as an Army librarian during World War II. She wrote Henry Huggins when she was 33!

I would have loved a third installment all about her writing, fame, motherhood, and awards because she's so fascinating. Her writing style was always matter-of-fact and humorous, which gave great insight into her personality while making every book a joy to read. What a treasure.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Petey's Bedtime Story

 Illustrated by David Small

I had never heard of this book so I was looking forward to reading it. Beverly Cleary has a magic touch with picture books, just as she does with chapter books. She makes characters that are overflowing with personality, even if they're just one-off characters instead of developed over a series.

Petey is a toddler who doesn't mind getting ready for bed. He knows he'll get to hear bedtime stories, so he's always good in the bath and putting on his pjs. His mom reads him one bedtime story, but Petey isn't tired yet. His dad reads him another, but Petey still isn't tired. He decides to tell his sleepy parents his favorite bedtime story - the one about the night he was born! Except the way Petey tells it makes it way more adventurous than it actually was.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Strider

 Illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky. 

This book is the sequel to Dear Mr. Henshaw. I don't think I read this when I was younger. Honestly, Dear Mr. Henshaw was pretty dark for me as a sheltered kid. I don't think I was drawn to the character himself. I also had bad luck with dog books (see: Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows) so I didn't try this one based on the cover alone.

It was nice to have a "new" Cleary book to read in adulthood. I love Leigh Botts now, so I was glad to read more about him and see how he's grown. I especially think the sequel was necessary because Leigh seemed really torn up about his dad in the first book, and now he's come to accept his life. I think that could be helpful to a lot of kids going through something similar.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Muggie Maggie

Illustrations by Kay Life, though the
cover artist is the "Rubes" signature again.

I say this about every other Cleary book, but I remember this so vividly from my own childhood. I think my mom bought it for me when I was struggling with my own handwriting. This book was written in response to a third-grader who wanted a book about cursive writing. It's a quick read but I do think it's a necessary subject. Cleary addresses it with her signature natural and fun style. Maggie is only a character for this one short book, but she feels as real and well-developed as the kids from Klickitat Street.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: A Girl From Yamhill


Beverly Cleary shares her childhood up through high school graduation in the first installment of her autobiography. She includes a lot of historical information about her pioneer ancestors. When she wrote about her early childhood on the farm, I could see where a lot of Emily's Runaway Imagination came from. 

These memories reminded me a lot of my maternal grandmother, too. She grew up on a farm and was close to the same age as Cleary. We had read some Cleary books together, including Emily's Runaway Imagination, so I had my grandmother's memories going through my head as I read this book. It made for a very cozy experience.

Cleary's story is touching and real and interesting. She is very honest about her childhood and her relationship with her mother. As she grew into a teenager, I could see where some of the subject matter for her YA books came from as well. Her writing style in this book is just as natural as it is in her fiction books. 

Friday, April 16, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Janet's Thingamajigs

Original illustrations by DyAnne DiSalvo, though my copy
is a re-release with illustrations redone by Carol Thompson.

Janet loves how her mother calls stuff "thingamajigs" when she can't remember the word for them. Janet wants thingamajigs of her own, so she starts collecting small items she sees every day. 

Jimmy wants to play with Janet's thingamajigs, so Janet wraps them up in brown paper bags and keeps them on her bed to prevent him from messing with them. The bags rustle every time Janet moves on her bed, and her mother says she sounds like a mouse in a wastepaper basket.

This short story was funny to me because my kid also likes to collect anything and everything. I think it's a perfect example of how kids like what they like, and if you give them the space to get it out of their system, they'll come through it on their own and save a lot of disagreements!

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Lucky Chuck

 Illustrations by J. Winslow Higginbottom

Chuck has a job and a motorcycle license and bought a used bike. He knows the rules of the road and usually follows them, but sometimes he just wants to have fun while he rides.

I felt bad that I wanted him to learn a lesson, but I was initially projecting because motorcycle drivers around here are completely awful. However, he does learn a lesson the hard way, and I love Cleary even more for writing it that way! She did a lot of research into motorcycles and it comes through in how she explains the bike parts and the driving laws so it's a very interesting picture book.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Happy Birthday!

Beverly Cleary
April 12, 1916 to March 25, 2021

In 2012, a friend and I visited Portland and I made sure we stopped to see Klickitat Street and Grant Park. I knew there were statues of Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby there, and Cleary was one of my favorite authors from childhood. At the time, I was just a big book nerd; I wasn't a librarian yet. Though we visited other libraries on this trip, including a tiny one-room library in Scio, Oregon, we didn't visit the Beverly Cleary Children's Library at the Central Branch of the Portland library. We also didn't visit the Beverly Cleary School, but I guess that just gives me good reasons to go back!

When I visited these statues, I had fond memories of the books I had read as a child. There were some lines and scenes I remembered vividly, and I've enjoyed reading them again as an adult. But above all, it's really impressed me how wonderful Cleary's writing is. I understand why children love it, because she's truly writing on their level. But as an adult, I'm still drawn in to each story because the characters are so well-developed and the problems are so real. Some of it is nostalgia, true, but there are several books of hers that I hadn't read as a kid and still really enjoyed this time around.

Grant Park was the setting for many scenes in children's books by Beverly Cleary. In 1991, a group of teachers, librarians, and business people formed the Friends of Henry & Ramona, and began to raise funds for the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden for Children. Portland artist Lee Hunt created life-sized bronze statues of three of Cleary's best-loved characters - Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Henry's dog Ribsy. Scattered around the concrete slab are granite plaques engraved with the titles of the Cleary books that take place in Portland - and a map of the neighborhood showing where events in the books "really happened." The Sculpture Garden was dedicated on October 13, 1995. 

Friday, April 9, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Ramona Forever

Illustrations by Alan Tiegreen, though my copy 
has a revised cover by JoAnn Scribner.

This book encompasses everything you could want from a chapter book! Ramona fights with her sister, gets a bit of after-school freedom, has to bury her cat, learns her mom is pregnant, and plays a part in her aunt's wedding! So much excitement, and I never had that in my childhood so I loved living vicariously through Ramona.

I think this might be the Ramona book I read most as a kid; I remember so much about it, so vividly. I remember thinking recently while reading Ramona and Her Mother: doesn't Ramona's family have a baby? I just couldn't remember when! I do kind of remember watching some episodes on TV as well because my original book had a yellow cover with a photograph of a real girl on the front.

Just an aside: I had Beverly Cleary's books arranged on my shelf in publication order, and also have a list of titles and publication dates in a notebook I'm using for this project. The copyright page of my book says 1979! There's nothing wrong with reading them out of order, but I want to see the progression of the stories and her writing. Everything I can find online verifies the 1984 publication date, but I thought it was strange and worth noting.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Dear Mr. Henshaw

 Illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky. 

I read this as a kid and it’s always stuck out in my mind as the first book I read written in epistolary form, but it wasn’t until re-reading it as an adult that the gravity of the overall book really hit me. 

I had remembered Leigh as being a kid writing to an author, but I forgot how much you learn about him through the letters. It’s interesting to see what he thinks of his life and how he portrays that to Mr. Henshaw. I especially love that we never see Mr. Henshaw’s letters to Leigh, but can still fill in the blanks by what’s written.

This book is really deep, and I think it was ahead of its time. I think Cleary is touching on so many interesting aspects of family life and divorced parents, especially considering this was published in 1983.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Zara Hossain is Here by Sabina Khan

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and @sabina_writer for sharing the ARC of this book with me. It’s out TODAY from @scholasticinc!

Zara was born in Pakistan and moved to Texas with her parents when she was three. Now she’s seventeen, with college on the horizon. But she has to make it through her senior year first, and it seems like one classmate, in particular, has it out for her. Tyler keeps leaving racist notes and saying racist remarks when she walks by. When he graffitis Zara’s house, her dad stands up for his family. Things get twisted around and her dad ends up hurt and charged with a crime, leaving Zara’s family’s green card in the balance.

This is an interesting book based on the subject matter alone, and I especially love that it goes into detail about how the family has been waiting for their green cards for years, even though Zara’s father’s employer sponsored them. I didn’t know a lot of the ins and outs of the process, so it was very eye-opening. I think it’s easy for teens to empathize with Zara because she’s on the cusp of being “free” for college, but this stands in her way to completely throw her life off track. I especially like how it’s framed as being the only country Zara has really known, while her mother is missing her own home country, so there’s this complex pull for both of them.

This might be nit-picky, but I think the LGBTQIA aspect of the book was a little over the top. It’s fine that Zara is bi, and I know some of the focus was that her parents were more accepting of it than other parents, but all of the scenes with her girlfriend seemed rushed. I don’t think the relationship was as well-developed as it could have been. I would either prefer the relationship to step up and balance the story more, or be taken out and those words used more for the injustice behind green cards, racism, etc.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Ralph S. Mouse

 Illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky, who might have also done the cover art? 
I can't see a signature and there's no additional credit. 

Once again, Ralph is unhappy about the rules where he lives. He's feeling suffocated by his extended family so he asks the son of the inn's housekeeper to take him to school. Ralph has never imagined what school would be like, so he loves exploring the new building. He can't stay out of sight though, so he inspires a classroom to do a mouse study. The students write poems and essays about Ralph, and one boy makes a maze for him to run. Ralph is nervous about this task.

I like the progression of meeting Ralph in the inn, seeing him go to camp, and now seeing him go to school. In my opinion, The Mouse and the Motorcycle is the best of this series.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Beverly Cleary Author Study: Ramona Quimby, Age 8

Illustrations by Alan Tiegreen, though my copy
has a revised cover by JoAnn Scribner.

Ramona starts third grade at a new school when her neighborhood is rezoned. Beezus is in junior high, and even their dad is back in school! He's finishing his college degree to become an art teacher. Again, Ramona spends a lot of this book wondering if her teacher likes her and worrying that her family isn't happy. 

Willa Jean is becoming a bigger character, reminiscent of a young Ramona in the early Henry Huggins books. In fact, the adventures Ramona has in this book remind me a lot of Cleary's earlier works.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

An Emotional Menagerie: Feelings from A to Z

Happy National Poetry Month!

I always loved calling attention to Poetry Month in both the public and school libraries because there's no much potential for sharing poems and interacting with an often-overlooked form of literature. I had fun choosing lesson plans relating to poetry for different ages, and An Emotional Menagerie: Feelings from A to Z is brimming with wonderful potential lessons.

Before sharing my lesson ideas, it's important to establish the quality of this book just as a read-aloud. Even if you don't tie lessons into it, these poems are meant to be read to a classroom of students. The book is listed as being for ages 5+, but coming from a Montessori background had me envisioning reading these poems to Early Childhood students (as young as 3).

The book has an emotion assigned to each letter of the alphabet, and each emotion is described with animal qualities. These animals are amazing choices for each emotion; even as an adult reading it on my own, I was impressed with how the animal qualities truly described each emotion. A monkey is naughty, a chameleon changing its colors is uncertain, just for a teaser.

Each poem is six stanzas long, but each emotion gets its own spread, so you can hold the book up as you're reading and the children can take in the vivid illustrations. (I love that each emotion gets its own spread because there's no reading ahead to the next emotion!)

When you use this book with younger students, you can show them the picture of the animal, have them name it, and ask students to share what they know about the animal. After reading the poem aloud, you can ask the students to share what they know about the emotion, or if they've felt it. Then you can discuss how the emotion and the animal relate to each other.

I think this book would be great to use when discussing emotions with younger children. It could also be incorporated into lesson plans if you have a letter of the week since there's an emotion for every letter of the alphabet. The book could also be used as a tie-in when you're studying animals since the emotions and animals match so well.

With older elementary students, I feel like there are several ways to approach this book. You could plan lessons and storytime based on the letter, emotion, or animal. A, for example, is Anger, with a roaring lion. You could read the A poem with Lion Lessons by Jon Agee and compare and contrast the lions. Or you could read it with My No No No Day by Rebecca Patterson and talk about anger.

You could also open the floor up for discussion about emotions before you even open the book. Go through the letters and see what emotions students can name for each letter. Once they guess the emotion that is used in the book, you can then have them brainstorm what animal they think would be associated with that emotion and why. 

I also had a creative writing club with older elementary and middle school students, and I think this book provides great jumping-off points even for that age. You could ask students to think of an emotion for a certain letter and have them write a poem about it. After reading some of the examples from this book aloud, you could ask them to think of an animal, and write a poem about emotions they associate with the animal. For an extra challenge, you could ask them to choose an emotion and write a poem using only words that express that emotion, or only words that start with the same letter as that emotion!

This book is one of those gems that not only gives you a great read-aloud for the classroom or storytime, but also is full of potential lessons for a variety of ages. It's enjoyable to read and will be even more fun to share with students to help activation their imaginations while cultivating emotional awareness.