Monthly Archives: April 2016

It’s Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday!

April 12, 2016

Dear Beverly Cleary,

Happy one hundredth birthday! I hope this letter finds you in good health.

I’ve been your fan for over forty years. It all got started when I was in second grade and Mom checked Beezus and Ramona out of the library to read to me.  I was very skeptical.  It was a thick book with pages crowded with words.  Mom said I might want to start reading these on my own sometime.  Ridiculous.  It looked super hard, like something you’d be able to read in college.

So I humored Mom in this experiment.  Did I get into it the first read aloud session?  I’m not sure, but before long I was hooked.  It was rip-roaring funny.   I couldn’t have told you at the time, but what made the book wonderful were great characters, funny situations, perfect story-telling, and the illustrations by Louis Darling.

That first book set the stage for me to start reading them on my own.  I roared through the books about Ramona and Beezus Quimby and. of course, Henry Huggins.  I just ate it up.  Henry and Beezus were great friends of mine.  Ramona’s antics were so hilarious I couldn’t imagine anyone funnier.  I like how as Ramona gets older, she gets more complicated and sympathetic.  When I first read Ramona the Brave about her first grade year, I was missing the big guffaws from younger Ramona.  Now I see the whole Ramona series as a compelling, utterly real, sometimes uproarious story of growing up.

As an adult, I’ve enjoyed reading your memoirs (Girl From Yamhill and My Own Two Feet) and reading your children’s books to my classes as a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade teacher. My wife Jen and I have read almost every book to our daughter and son.  They’ve loved it all.  My twelve year old recently realized we’d never read Emily’s Runaway Imagination and read it on her own.

When I moved to Oregon from Indiana, I had no clue most of your books were set in Northeast Portland.  It was a pleasant surprise when I got here to find out that Klicktat Street was a real place.  In the mid-‘90s it was a treat to join the hoopla at the unveiling of the statues at Grant Park:  Ramona, Henry, and his good old dog Ribsy.

You continue to be my favorite children’s author.  I read children’s books widely and there’s so much wonderful stuff out there.  But I virtually never find any slice of life fiction for kids with the level of humor, storytelling, and psychological insight that I get from so many of your books including all the Henry Huggins and all the Ramona books.  Often when I finish one of your books, I think, wow, that one must be her very best.

We have about 20 of your books on our shelves.  When my wife was pregnant, she read a big pile of them.  And I suspect when I don’t have anyone around “age-appropriate” to read them to anymore, I’ll just savor reading them to myself.

Congratulations on your staying power!  Since it’s been 66 years since Henry Huggins first came out, may your books be widely popular for another 66 years at least.

With gratitude and good wishes,

Dan Patterson

 

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Filed under Age: Middle Grade, Chapter Books

What’s new-ish in Fox Lit

Have you been making time for fox stories in your life recently?  If not it’s time to track down two fabulous newish fox fables.  One is Outfoxed by Mike Twohy (2013) and the other is That is Not a Good Idea by the famous Mo Willems (also 2013).

Willems is well loved for his Pigeon books (starting with the hilarious, so-original Don’t Let the Pigeon Ride the Bus, Knuffle Bunny, and the super fun beginning reader series Elephant and Piggie which is all dialogue and is the 21st century’s brilliant answer to Dr. Seuss).

That is Not a Good Idea is staged like a silent movie with the fox dressed as a sneaky villain.  Its conceit is black pages with white words like at a silent movie.  A fox sees a goose who he imagines for dinner.  And she seems willing to go along naively with his proposals such as “would you care to go for a stroll?”  The little goslings are watching this unfold and exclaiming with building urgency “that is not a good idea!”

The way Mo Willems gets to the surprise ending is fun and satisfying.

A book that is even more fun is Outfoxed.  Don’t look now, but we have another sneaky fox on the scene and he has just raided the hen house.  Uh-oh, but when he gets home he finds that what he stuffed in his coat appears to be a duck instead.  “Honestly- I felt more like chicken,” he says, “but a duck will do.”

Sounds like this duck’s goose is cooked, so to speak.  But with a little quick thinking the duck sets out to convince the fox that he is really a dog.  He sniffs Fox’s leg, slobbers all over him, and even pees on his carpet.  As the story goes along, we see fox struggling to decide whether he has a duck or a dog.

The book is illustrated simply and perfectly with very little background detail.  It is hilarious to the very end.  Preschool and first grader classes I’ve shared it with have loved it, but adults chortle hard too.

 

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