Ramona Quimby—the protagonist of Beverly Cleary’s popular series of children's novels—has a knack for getting into trouble, whether it’s dropping out of kindergarten, squeezing a tube of toothpaste down a sink, or cracking a hard-boiled egg on her head to show off (only to find her mom forgot to boil it). While her older sister Beezus calls her a “pest,” Ramona’s imaginative and lively nature is why readers still love her all these years later.
1. Ramona Was An Accidental Character
Beezus and Ramona appeared as minor characters in Cleary’s first novel, Henry Huggins (1950). Cleary tossed Ramona into the book because she realized none of her characters had siblings. When she went to add a female friend for Henry, she included a little sister to explain Beezus’s nickname. Ramona couldn’t pronounce her real name, Beatrice, so now everyone called her Beezus.
As for the little sister’s name, Cleary overheard a neighbor outside calling to someone named Ramona and promptly put the name in the book.
2. Ramona Surprised Cleary By Sticking Around
Originally, Ramona was “just a little brat in Henry Huggins,” intended for one brief scene, but Cleary found she kept having new ideas for the character. In 1955, she wrote Beezus and Ramona, the only book in the series from Beezus’s point of view. In 1968, Cleary wrote Ramona the Pest and went on to write six more Ramona books during the 1970s and 1980s. They sold well and Ramona soon became Cleary’s most popular character.
3. Ramona Is Based On A Girl Eating Butter
Ramona was inspired by a childhood memory. One day, Cleary saw a neighbor girl walking home from the store. "She had been sent to the neighborhood store for a pound of butter," Cleary said. "In those days, it was all in one piece, not in cubes. And she had opened the butter and was eating it."
Cleary may have thrown a bit of herself into Ramona as well. In 1995, she said that, as a child, “I was very much like Ramona when I lived on the farm and was wild and free.” When she got older and moved to Portland, a bad teacher “turned me into Ellen Tebbits, a rather anxious little girl." In another interview, she added, "But I had Ramona-like thoughts!"
4. Cleary Wrote Her Books “Very Messily.”
Cleary approached writing in an intuitive way. She explained:
“I usually start with a couple of ideas, not necessarily at the beginning of the book, and I just write. Sometimes I have to go back and figure out how a character got to a particular point. In Ramona and Her Father, … I was asked to write a Christmas story about Ramona for one of the women’s magazines. I did this, and called it 'Ramona and the Three Wise Persons.' But in writing this story, I was thinking how Ramona got to the point where she was wearing a sheep costume made from old pajamas. So after that story was published, I wrote how she got to that point. So in this case, I wrote the last chapter first. Of course this is against everything people are taught about writing, but I don’t believe that outlining works for fiction because if you have it all worked out, it becomes boring.”
5. Klickitat Street Is A Real Place
Ramona and the rest of the characters live on Klickitat Street in Portland, Oregon, just a few blocks from Cleary's childhood home on NE 37th Street. Cleary chose the name Klickitat because it reminded her of the sound of knitting needles. Today, you can visit the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden on Klickitat Street, which has statues of Ramona, Henry, and Henry's dog, Ribsy.
6. Cleary Wrote For Real Children
One day when Cleary was working as a children’s librarian in Yakima, Washington, a group of boys asked her, “Where are the books about kids like us?” Cleary found she couldn’t answer them. What’s more, she remembered feeling the same way as a child. “I longed for funny stories about the sort of children who lived in my neighborhood,” Cleary wrote in her memoir My Own Two Feet. Soon after, she decided to try her hand at writing for and about real children.
7. Her Characters Deal With Real Issues
Cleary set a new benchmark for realistic children’s fiction. Ramona has a complex personality with good and bad traits that change as she matures. She’s emotional, and sometimes feels afraid, jealous, or neglected. Her emotional life drives her behavior, and leads to conflict.
On top of that, the Ramona books deal with real-life issues. Ramona’s dad loses his job and the family struggles financially. Her parents fight about money, which makes Beezus and Ramona worry they’ll get divorced. The cat Picky-Picky dies and Ramona and Beezus bury her in the backyard before their parents get home. These darker issues not only stuck with readers, they influenced children’s literature overall.
8. There Was A 1988 TV Show Called Ramona
The 10-episode TV show starred Sarah Polley as Ramona. Here’s the intro:
9. Until Recently, Cleary Insisted On Script Approval Of Movies
For years, Cleary turned down deals for full-length Ramona movies because she wanted script approval, feeling that she knew her characters better than a screenwriter. However, in 2010, Ramona and Beezus came out starring Selena Gomez as Beezus and Joey King as Ramona. Cleary seemed to like the movie. “Although there were scenes left out that I would have liked to see, on the whole I think it was a movie that parents could take their children to without worry," she said.
10. The Last Ramona Book Was Published In 1999
Ramona’s World came out in 1999 after a 15-year wait. Now almost 100, Cleary is retired and so we won’t be seeing another Ramona book. But Cleary thinks Ramona will “be all right” when she grows up.
"She'll do something creative. She liked to draw because her father liked to draw. Children often live out their parents' frustrations. But I don't know. I'd have to write the book to find out."