Sunday, December 16, 2007

Critical Analysis of Beverly Cleary

With Beverly Cleary realizing at such a young age that there weren't many relateable and interesting books for children to read, was the start of her journey to becoming one of the most popular authors of children's books for over the past 50 years. Throughout her life she has paid close attention and observed the many different details about the children and events in her neighborhood to use as the material she writes about, normal everyday kids.

Ramona Quimby is probably one of her most well known characters. Some would describe her as impossible or mistake her for being a bad kid. She is just a normal kid that tries to be independent and is curious which sometimes gets her into trouble. Due to the fact she is not perfect, nor tries to be, I think makes her an endearing character. In this book Ramona starts 3rd grade, gets to take the bus to school for the first time, makes new friends and encounters some embarrassing moments at school. Also her family goes through some ups and downs because her father has decided to persue his dream and return to college to become an art teacher. Trying to be supportive of this, Ramona also tries to be responsible and not cause any problems.....but how could her teacher call her a nuisance?

"It's a rare thing to be hailed by audience and critics alike. In Mrs. Cleary's case, everyone seems delighted." -The New York Times (on Ramona Quimby Age 8)

Dear Mr. Henshaw is about a character named Leigh Botts in the 6th grade that writes to his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw. It starts out as a school project but the unexpected response from Mr. Henshaw ends up teaching Leigh to learn how to deal with his feelings about the absence of his father, divorcing parents, being the new kid and a lunch bag thief, by writing.

"A first-rate, poignant story...a lovely, well crafted, three dimensional work." - The New York Times

The tones of both of these books are very different. Although Ramona deals with difficult situations such as embarrassing herself in front of the school by cracking an egg on her head or feeling hurt because she overhears her teacher calling her a nuisance, it is written lightheartedly. Despite these being important situations with Ramona, it seems that in the end everything always works out and has a happy ending. Leigh deals with very serious matters that children deal more and more with everyday now. His parents are divorcing and on top of that he is starting a new school. It's not enough that he already feels like he didn't see his dad that often because he's a cross country truck driver but now it's even less because he doesn't even live there anymore. There is a lot of emotions in this book and Leigh's story doesn't have a happy ending so to speak. You read of his continuous feelings of hurt by his dad leaving and not bothering to contact Leigh very often, acting like he doesn't care. Dear Mr. Henshaw is a sad read, not like that of Ramona Quimby Age 8 but after reading I can definitely understand why it won the John Newbery Medal.

At first glance and reading the back cover of these books one might think they were written by different authors as well. However, one thing both books do have in common is the underlying theme, growing up is difficult. This topic and many others that occur throughout her books makes her books relatable and very appealing to young readers. Although these two characters encounter very different things they both deal with feelings of hurt, disappointment and the stages of growing up. These books provide two very different points of view on how children can deal with problems but it is good because that would appeal to a wide range of readers. I think it might be challenging for Dear Mr. Henshaw to appeal to girls and vice versa but the theme could invite any reader to enjoy both books.

Another similarity between these two books would be the comedic tone present. Ramona is a very entertaining character that gets herself into blunders and deals with things with a very matter of fact attitude. The following are excerpts from both books to give an example of the comedic tone present in each.

Ramona Quimby Age 8-Ramona brought what she thought was a hard boiled egg in her lunch for school.
"There were a number of ways of cracking eggs. The most popular, and the real reason for bringing an egg to school, was knocking the egg against one's head. She took a firm hold on her egg, waited until everyone at her table was watching, and whack-she found herself with a handful of crumbled shell and something cool and slimy running down her face. Her egg was raw."

Dear Mr. Henshaw-Leigh hasn't heard back from the author he wrote to for a school assignment and impatiently writes another one.
"De Liver
De Letter
De Sooner
De Better
De Later
De Letter
De Madder
I Getter"
- Sincerely, Leigh Botts

Both of these examples demonstrate the consistant humor Beverly Cleary uses regardless of the book. Reading both of these books, you witness Beverly Cleary's wide range of writting skills, which would contribute to the reason why she has such a huge audience. Sadly, I heard in an interview that Beverly Cleary would not be writing any more books but thankfully she has left us with many stories to read for future generations as well.

For some fun try playing a game of Dear Mr. Henshaw Jeopardy at:

Or a trivia game on Ramona:

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