September 2020 | Barbara Basbanes Richter

Ramona Quimby: Still Spry at 65

Courtesy of Chronicle Books

In 1955, Ramona Quimby blew into the world of picture books with the gale-force that only a young child can summon. In Beezus and Ramona, the rambunctious four-year old plows her tricycle right into the coffee table, the would-be foil to the responsible older sister thus steals the show--this is the first and only book in the Ramona series narrated by Beezus--and cements her place in the pantheon of American children's literature.

Created by Beverly Cleary (who, it should be noted, is 103 years old), Ramona embodies the boisterous spunk of so many children who "can not wait," and whose honesty, even when admitting she's been misbehaving, remains a refreshing palliative to what feels like an overwhelming sense of apathy and cynicism. Though she always seems to be doing the wrong thing, Ramona's heart is generally in the right place, and that's what makes her so thoroughly relatable. 

To mark sixty-five years in print, Chronicle Books recently published a retrospective of the illustrations prepared for the various Ramona books, entitled, fittingly, The Art of Ramona Quimby.  Author Anna Katz explores the evolution of Ramona through the years by examining the ways the five illustrators interpreted this unlikely heroine with pen and ink. Ramona illustrator Jacqueline Rogers provides an essay on her experience illustrating the series in 2012, discussing her goals with refashioning a classic for a new generation of children. 

Adult readers who encountered the series as children may find themselves drawn to the illustrations they recall from their youth. but whether in the hands of Louis Darling, Tracy Dockray, Joanne Scribner, or Alan Tiegreen, Ramona emerges as effervescent and scrappy, wholly embodying the spectrum of human emotion.