Friday, July 23, 2021

Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary

For the 2021 Back to the Classics Category - choose a children's classic I wanted to go with Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary but I got halfway through the book and I wasn't getting into it so I decided to try out Beverly Cleary's Ramona series instead.  I went with Beezsus and Ramona published 1955, the first book in the series, and I am glad I did.  

Beezus  is 9 year old Beatrice Quimbey.  She is a thoughtful and intelligent young girl.  Helps her Mom out with the chores which mainly involves looking after her younger sister Ramona.  It's a full time job because four year old Ramona is a little terror peddling around on her tricycle figuring out new ways to get into mischief.  The kind of little kid who doesn't understand the word no.  

The story begins with  Ramona pestering Beezus to read to her from her favorite book The Little Steam Shovel.  Ramona never tires of having the book read to her and her family is at their wits' end.  Beezus comes up with a solution.  She'll take Ramona to the library to pick out a new book and hopefully take her mind off The Little Steam Shovel.  And best of all Ramona will not be able to get too attached to the new book because it will have to be returned to the library in two weeks.  This works about as well as one might expect with Ramona who loves the new book, Big Steve the Steam Shovel (a sequel) and decides it's not going back to the library.

Beezus and Ramona is not very long.  Six chapters in total each dealing with a different Ramona escapade and I had a smile on my face throughout.  Some might say Ramona is a bit of a brat who will not accept being told she can't have everything her own way but I found her adorable.  She is only four and she very often does get her own way.  I liked Beezus as well, a very patient older sister.

I can see why the Ramona series of children's books has been so popular for decades.  Mothers read it when they were young and gave it to their daughters to read who are now giving it to their daughters.  It's also a good series for girls with little sisters. 

Beverly Cleary passed away this year at age 104.  She started out as a librarian back in the 1940's and was inspired to begin her writing career when a young boy asked her if there were any books "about kids like us".  Today 91 million copies of Beverly Cleary's books have been sold worldwide and she has won multiple awards in the category of children's literature.   I never did get to read Beverly Cleary when I was a kid and so I am grateful to the Classics Challenge for once again giving me the push I needed. 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

So Big by Edna Ferber.

"My father was wrong.  He said that life was a great adventure - a fine show.  He said the more things that happen to you the richer you are, even if they're not pleasant things ... Well, it isn't true.  He had brains and charm, and knowledge and he died in a gambling house, shot by looking on at someone else who was to have been killed .. My little So Big... Asleep on a pile of potato sacks because his mother thought that life was a grand adventure Well it's going to be different with him.  I mustn't call him So Big anymore.  He doesn't like it.  Dirk.  That's a fine name Dirk DeLong".

I have been meaning to read Edna Ferber for many years.  She was a very popular writer in her day and many of her bestselling novels were made into successful films, most notably Giant which continues to be shown on Turner Classic Movies.  And so at first I thought I might choose Giant, a big sprawling novel set in the 1950's about a wealthy Texas oil family for the 2021 Back to the Classic's Challenge - choose a classic by a woman author.  

I was hesitant to choose her more critically acclaimed novel So Big (published 1924) which tells the story of a mid-western farm woman because small town/rural fiction has been a hit or a miss for me.  I enjoyed Fidelity by Susan Glaspell for example but My Antonia by Willa Cather set in the Nebraskan prairie I found, despite it's greatness,  rather dull and melancholy.  

But I decided in the end to go with So Big because it's Ms. Ferber's most critically acclaimed novel.  Winner of the 1925 Pulitzer Prize and the number one bestseller n the US in 1924.   And so now having read So Big I can see what all the fuss was about. It's a detailed and fascinating story about what life was like for a woman on her own raising her young son in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America.  You get to experience life on a farm in Illinois during the turn of the last century but also life in Chicago during the Roaring Twenties and as Selina's son Dirk grows into a man he makes choices that differ in how his mother lived her life and the dreams she had for him.  Selina is advised by a friend that you can't live another person's life for them.  They will have to find their own way.  

And so as the book progresses and Dirk makes his own way you are presented with the question of what defines a successful life?   Is it a career that can provide you with the wealth and security you desire as you climb the corporate ladder or is it doing what you love, what you are passionate about, even if it means you may have to struggle. We go on quite a journey with the two main characters, Selina DeLong and her son Dirk (So Big) DeJong and it's a journey I enjoyed taking.  I finished this novel knowing I will be reading more from Edna Ferber and I am really looking forward to it.