Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Ramona Series

We are whizzing our way through the Ramona Quimby books by Bevery Cleary, though unfortunately, we are not really reading them in order... so, I'm just blogging the whole set of books instead of each book separately.

The Story:  These books focus on Ramona Quimby, from the time she is 5-8 (I think).  She is a spunky, imaginative, sometimes mischievous little girl.  In other words, a lot like Evalina.  She has an older sister, Beatrice, also known as Beezus, and very loving parents.  She goes through trials and tribulations of being a kid who is trying very hard to grow up.

The Good:  The wonderful thing about Ramona is that she doesn't pull any punches.  She lets you know just how it is to be a kid, worrying about the world around her sometimes.  She doesn't always love school.  She worries that people don't like her.  She sometimes gives in to her naughtier instincts.  In other words, she's a typical kid.  I think it's great to have a series of books that really try to tell things from a kid's point of view, without condescending to the child reading it.  Ramona is a delightful character to read, and her family goes through real family problems that are relevant today.  Amazingly, I just read that the first Ramona book was published in the mid-50's!  I would have thought they were in the 70's or 80's (though I read some as a child in the 80's and they were already classics then, so...)  Ramona's parents go through job loss, financial difficulties, going back to school, childcare issues, and other absolutely familiar things to people today.  And, one thing I like is that the books explore what these things mean to Ramona.  She notices.  But they don't just deal with her issues with the adult problems, they also delve into her own mind.  What if her teacher doesn't like her?  What if people think she's a pest?  What if she has to be nice to a friend's annoying kid sister?

The Bad:  Sometimes, Ramona does naughty things.  She gets so mad that she squirts out an entire tube of toothpaste, just because.  She cracks eggs on her head (and, unfortunately, not always hard boiled eggs...)  She crushes school projects instead of talking to her teacher when another student copies her work.  She goes a different way to school and gets a shoe stolen by a dog.  Still, all of these are good teaching moments, and none of them are implausible situations.  Sometimes, it is obvious that Ramona was written in a different time, when kids were given more freedom (walking to school alone in first grade, for instance..)  Not that it's a bad thing (I personally think that we don't give our kids enough trust nowadays... but that's a discussion for a different time), but it's something to be aware of.

The Verdict:  I think that the Ramona series is utterly enjoyable.  I also think that it's empowering for kids to have a character they can relate to so much.  The writing style is not too difficult, and they are relatively quick reads, I'd say on par with most Roald Dahl books.  Absolutely recommended.  Also, though it would be nice to read them in order, it's not really a necessity, so we are reading them as they become free at the library (and Evalina did get a couple of them for Christmas).  I think they would be great books to own, because they would be good to re-read over and over.  Amazon has the reading level from ages 9-12, but I think that's ridiculous.   I'd say more 6-10 (and I am enjoying them as a grown up, too!)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The King's Stilts

For Christmas, I got the kids several Dr. Seuss books.  One of them was The King's Stilts.  We have read it several times now, and it's a really great one!

The Story:  The King of Binn works very very hard.  He is up at 5 in the morning, working.  He works all day, to keep the kingdom safe from the threat of the horrible Nizzard birds that peck at the Dike trees that protect the kingdom from being flooded.  But when his work is done for the day, the King loves to roam about on his beloved stilts.  All of the people in the kingdom find the King's stilting hobby endearing and love him all the more for it.  All of the people, of course, except for the sour Lord Droon.  He thinks that the stilts are far too much fun, and might cause troublesome smiling.  So, he decides to steal the stilts and orders the King's paige boy, Eric, to bury them.  Eric doesn't want to do it, because he knows how much the king loves his stilts, but he is forced to obey.  Without his stilts, the King becomes despondent.  He can't bring himself to do his work with the same enthusiasm as he had before, without his stilts to look forward to.  The Kingdom is in terrible trouble, without the King working to fend off the Nizzards, and Eric decides to defy Droon and return the stilts to the King.  With his stilts back, the King regains his vigor, the Kingdom is saved, and Droon is duly punished.

The Good:  It's a prose-style Seuss, which I like quite a lot.  The message is clear - All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and King Birtram a poor king.  The illustrations are, of course, wonderful.  Eric is akin to Bartholomew in his rank and determination to save the kingdom he loves.  The kids have asked me to read this book three nights in a row.

The Bad:  I can't think of much bad about it, unless you don't like prose-style Seuss...

The Verdict:  A wonderful addition to any Dr. Seuss library.  It's not a very well known one, but it's worth owning.  I've already gotten the kids to do their chores with a little less argument, reminding them that they can play when they are done working.  That's always a good thing.