On Spunky Girls

Ramona in rabbit earsGirls who have the audacity to be the heroes of books are likely to be labelled, or at least scrutinized, in two ways. In chapter books or middle-grade books, they will inevitably be described as “spunky,”and “feisty.” Those really are the two favorite words in the English language for describing the elementary-school protagonist. It is usually meant to flatter the hero and the book’s author, but it can also be used disparagingly. “Look,” a critic may say, presumably while rolling his eyes upward, “yet another girl child with personality.”

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Henry Huggins

henry hugginsIn the introduction to the fiftieth anniversary edition of Henry Huggins, Beverly Cleary describes sitting down to write what would be her first book. She remembered the boys who used to come into her library and ask, “Where are the books about kids like us?” That was the 1940s, and apparently not many had realistic and imperfect kids, but paragons of the Horatio Alger stamp or fearless adventurers like the Hardy Boys. Cleary decided to write a book about kids like them — city kids without much money — and Henry Huggins was born. Continue reading

Homesick for Klickitat Street

When I was a kid there was no children’s writer bigger than Beverly Cleary. Everybody read her books, even the kids who didn’t read. And it was quite all right for boys to read the Ramona books because plenty of boys started with Henry Huggins and simply kept going as the series transitioned. Survey a class anywhere between second and sixth grade who their favorite writer was and half of them would say Beverly Cleary. Continue reading