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Beezus and Ramona is a character driven chapter book that focuses on Beatrice (nicknamed "Beezus") Quimby, the 9-year-old sister of 4-year-old Ramona Quimby. The book is essentially a series of vignettes depicting the relationship between the two sisters, in which Ramona's mischief features prominently. The book is different from the other books in the Ramona series in that Beezus is the protagonist instead of Ramona. Thus, the book is essentially a portrait of a young sibling relationship--especially its challenges--from the perspective of an older sibling.
Since this chapter book is character- and relationship-driven, the plot is minimal. However, the vignettes do develop the central theme of Beezus's struggle to feel love for her sister. Beezus--the quintessential conscientious bookish first-born child, concerned about doing things right--worries over her periodic anger and resentment toward Ramona--the classic misbehaving baby of the family who always seems to get her way and wreck things for her sister.
Throughout the book, Cleary subtly paints an alternative picture of sisterhood in the happy relationship between Beezus's mother and her sister Beatrice (the aunt after whom Beezus was named). Beezus adores her Aunt Beatrice--she's a young, pretty, jovial schoolteacher that drives a yellow convertible; what's not to love?
The book culminates with Beezus's 10th birthday dinner, which Aunt Beatrice attends. A dinner conversation between Mrs. Quimby and Aunt Beatrice, in which they recall (with laughter) the sibling rivalry of their youth, helps Beezus re-envision her relationship with the exasperating Ramona. Beezus realizes that she doesn't always have to feel love toward her little sister, and she gains hope for a happier sister-relationship when they both get older. After all, if Aunt Beatrice was once a frustrating little sister, then there must be hope for Ramona too!
The subjective appeal of Beezus and Ramona lies chiefly in the humor of Ramona's antics. From the reader's perspective, Ramona's clever mischief is hilarious. For example, once when Beezus is looking after Ramona while their mother is out, Beezus finds Ramona sitting in the basement by a big box of apples, eating one bite out of each apple and then tossing it aside. When her big sister orders her to stop at once, Ramona coolly explains, "But the first bite tastes best..." (104). Then, to try to evade trouble with her sister, Ramona claims that she just wants to "share" the apples with her sister. Sharing is good, right? Classic! This chapter book is filled with similarly sharp, hilarious episodes that reflect Cleary's acute insight into young children.
The book's theme of sibling relationships will also be appealing to children with siblings--especially those with younger siblings, and especially girls. Virtually any child with a younger sibling could probably relate to and identify with Beezus in some way, and so would be interested to find out how Beezus manages to get along with her difficult little sister.
Finally, the feature of the book that makes the sibling relationship so compelling is Cleary's excellent character development. Cleary nails the youngest sibling character with Ramona: just the right combination of funny, mischievous, demanding, manipulative, and exasperating. She has a real knack for the funny logic of a 4-year-old. Ramona is surely a forerunner of contemporary characters like Junie B. Jones (e.g., see Junie B. Jones's First Boxed Set Ever! (Books 1-4)).
Cleary also develops Beezus to a tee. For example, after the encouraging birthday conversation between Mrs. Quimby and Aunt Beatrice (during the course of which Ramona was sent to her room yet again for being disobedient), Cleary describes an interaction between Beezus and her mother thus: " `Mother,' whispered Beezus, happier than she had felt in a long time, `I hope Ramona comes back before we have my birthday cake` " (p. 180). Here we see a realistically softened Beezus, who has new resources with which she can both appreciate and cope with her little sister.
The developmental value of this chapter book lies chiefly in its potential to help children deal with difficult younger siblings. Not only is it helpful that Cleary suggests that anger and exasperation are normal parts of young sibling relationships; her portrayal of Beezus's (albeit limited) patience with Ramona is also a lovely model for struggling older siblings. For example, Beezus often attends to her younger sister of her own accord, reading her favorite book to her, or taking her to the library. Cleary also helpfully shows that Beezus really admires certain qualities in her sister (e.g., her imagination), and thus encourages older siblings to see the positive side of their sometimes annoying younger siblings. Thus, Beezus is an exemplary big sister that children can both identify with and model themselves after.
The book's portrayal of family life is also developmentally valuable. Although the Quimbys are a traditional and somewhat quaint nuclear family (the book was written in the 1950s; what do you expect?), their family dynamics are healthy and functional, which is a breath of fresh air. Mrs. Quimby is a kind, gentle woman who parents with patience and equity, attentive to the special needs of both girls in their particular sibling roles and personalities. On the whole, then, Cleary's portrayal of family life is a charming, helpful example.
Finally, Beezus and Ramona is written at a level that will encourage the reading abilities of intermediate readers. It is an excellent book for children who are ready to graduate from easy chapter books, and could be enjoyable as a read-aloud for kids as young as six.
In sum, I highly recommend Beezus and Ramona.