Author Topic: Forever young


Forever young
« on: October 29, 2019 »
The devil feeds nostalgia. Translation: Amazon sells many tempting books from my childhood. Occasionally I succumb, to see how well they’ve aged – as if the present was a test the past must pass.* If I haven’t yet clicked the button on this,

it’s only because I have a bad habit of buying something (from £0.01 + postage is too tempting) only to set it on top of the last unread book. There will always be time, is my laughable motto. My loft is filled with stacks of time.

Beverly Cleary has had one of those careers that, while it didn’t bring her the riches of a J. K. Rowling, must have been immensely satisfying. "I've had an exceptionally happy career,” she agrees on Wikipedia.

She’s sold 91+ million books, and is credited as “one of the first authors of children's literature to figure emotional realism in the narratives of her characters, often children in middle class families.” Her critical significance is echoed in Amazon reviews:

“I loved the wholesomeness of this book. That the kids in it were basically nice and said things like 'jeepers'. No one was sassy to their parents like in so many middle-grade books today. This is a great book to read and discuss with your middle grade reader.”

“What I found most fascinating about this book is how Beverly Cleary manages to weave a subtle thread of friendship between Henry and Beezus throughout the book. Beezus emerges as quite a likeable character as she and Henry (along with the other regulars -- Ribsy, Scooter, Robert, and Ramona) continue with more adventures on Klickitat Street. I enjoyed reading it to my seven-year-old as much as he enjoyed listening to it. Every night he would refuse to go to sleep until I'd read another chapter in Henry and Beezus. What I really loved was the way Cleary portrays the friendship between Henry and Beezus. She is a true friend, the only voice in the crowd urging Henry not to eat dog food while others are happy to stand back and watch him do it. Beezus is always there in some quiet way to help Henry throughout the book and he reciprocates as well despite all his protests about how girls are so much trouble. I found it to be a wonderful portrayal of a sweet friendship. We loved it and are moving on to the next Henry Huggins book.”

"Reading the Henry Huggins books written by Beverly Cleary is like a walk down the lane of my childhood memories. Written and published at the right time for the right audience, the stories have the ring of truth for anyone who grew up at that time. Immensely enjoyable. One thing, as minor as it may be, that does not ring true, though, is the illustrations are contemporary to current times in that the show kids wearing bicycling helmets, which did not exist at the time, and one of a kid wearing a baseball style cap backwards with the type of universal adjustment that also did not exist at the time Beverly Cleary wrote these stories."

"I would recommend Henry and Beezus. I don’t have any sons, but I do know that it can be hard to find books for boys because many of the books featuring young male protagonists revolve around pranks and naughtiness. Henry always tries to do the right thing. He sometimes has some rather dismissive thoughts about the “dumb things” that girls do, but he keeps his thoughts to himself and is not deliberately rude to his family and friends."

Jeepers! Not everybody is pleased:

“Do we really want to perpetuate these gender divisions?
Unfortunately, the datedness of this story reared it's ugly head. I lost track of how many times the author had Henry thinking to himself, in a derogatory way, "isn't that just like a girl?" or "only a girl would do something like that!" Since the story is written from Henry's perspective, it made the girls appear like total dolts. We are trying to raise our children in an open-minded way, to believe that they can be themselves and not be limited by people's stereotypes. Our son and daughter get along well and the last thing I want to start hearing from my son is, "Oh, that's just like a girl" in a negative way. I want them to fell comfortable with and open to having friends of both genders. Besides this complaint, the book didn't offer anything particularly special. I liked that Henry used some ingenuity and found objects to turn his unwanted girl's bike into something he was proud of; but overall, I would have preferred not having listen to the misogyny of the book. Sorry Beverly Cleary!”

There’s agreement with this reader over at Bookriot, where in her article Gender Essentialism in Beverly Cleary’s Ribsy, Raych Krueger reasonably laments:

There is a wild squirrel running loose in a classroom. “The girls pulled their feet up from the floor. The boys sat on their desks to get a better view.” The boys actually remove themselves further from the squirrel but the way the girls’ actions are described implies fear while the boys’ implies interest. Representation MATTERS and words mean things.

Pardon me, animated GIFs past a certain number [that number being 1] make me weepy. Do carry on:

And I’m so mad about all of this. I’m just trying to read to my kid at the end of the day so that she goes to sleep, I ain’t trying to have a conversation about sexism.

OK. I’m reasonably confident the misogyny was met by equal if not greater levels of dumb boy-ism, though as my wife points out, an evenly matched number of insults doesn't mean they might not still play along gender stereotypes. And here I was just trying to get her to nod her head along with me about silly critics.

Cleary has also taken hits in the past at what some perceived to be unnecessary highlighting of the low tides of family fortunes, examined by Sarah Curtis Graziano in Why We Still Need Ramona’s Realism:

Ramona and Her Father is the most anxious book in the series, and sets a darker tone for the ones that follow. Ramona is consistently a worrywart, but now her worries, such as her father's chain smoking and the family's grim finances, gain substance and merit...

The adults in Ramona's world hold tremendous sway over her emotional life. She obsesses over grown-ups' slights and negativity, from the teachers who find her annoying to her neighbor's dull grandmother, who grudgingly watches her after school when Mrs. Quimby goes back to work. She agonizes daily over things real and imagined: her parents' bickering, her father's unrealized dreams as an artist, her mother's news that she's pregnant with a baby whom Ramona worries will consume her mother's love and attention. It often pains me, reading Ramona to my daughters, because I don't want to believe that my own stalled ambitions and daily grievances affect them so. But, as Cleary reminds us in the introduction to Henry Huggins, she didn't write her books for adults. She wrote them for "kids like us," the sensitive subjects of adults' imperfect regimes.

Ramona actually figures larger in my memory than Henry, because she was such a great character. Is further research required for my thesis that Outnumbered's Ramona Marquez is a direct descendent?

I haven’t paid a lot of attention to young people’s literature, despite having once worked at Bank Street Bookstore, part of the Bank Street College of Education, which also incorporates a fancy private children’s school. (William Hurt's kid went there. He will always be the man who liked his new shoes to me. What, no clip of that, YouTube? Guess I’ll go with this.) The last thing I read on the subject had to do with how difficult it now is to write and sell things which don’t raise the ire of a twitter mob; the forces of uncorrectness are outnumbered. Doubtless many would retch at the wholesomeness as well. I might make fun of it; I'd never gag.

Having had a paper route as a 11-16 year old – this remains my record as longest held job, easily beating all my postings at bookshops, several of which closed on me – I am also tempted to add

to my wish list, at least.

Here’s to Henry, Beezus, Ramona, Ribsy, and Beverly. May you stay forever young, even as the clock keeps racing along.

He gets around

* It appears to be, which is why I've gone with was rather than the subjunctive were. As if I knew what I were talking about.


Forever young
« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2021 »
I just learned that Cleary died two weeks ago. According to the Guardian, "No cause of death was given," being almost 105 years old apparently providing no clue. I hope a moment of silence was observed on Klickitat Street.

Cece Bell is the author of El Deafo, a graphic novel whose characters are all bunnies. Because kids get irony, too.