By Jennifer Gibbons, Red Room Community Team
It was fifth grade when my friend Siobhan gave me a book by an author I'd never heard of before. "You would like her," she told me. "She's just like Judy Blume." Siobhan knew I loved Judy Blume with a passion and read all her books in the fourth grade. She gave me Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary.
I took the book home and started it, finishing the next day, changed. I've always loved the characters in my favorite books and cherished them—I still do. Harriet the Spy made me realize I could be a writer. Nancy Drew was what I wanted to be when I grew up —a girl who knew everything and tried to fix things that were wrong. However, Ramona was the closest to my heart because I felt connected to her.
That year I read Ramona I had just been documented with a learning disability. It made my life extra special at school for not only did I have learning disabilities but my parents weren't together, and that combo was a rarity in Catholic School. I just felt I had on my forehead a stamp reading: POOR GIRL FROM BROKEN HOME HAS LEARNING DISABILITIES. Yet I read about Ramona and I felt less alone. Ramona sometimes had misunderstandings with her teachers and her parents, just like I did. She hated having the label of Ramona the Pest, just as I hated my label as well.
Siobhan lent me some more Beverly Cleary books, and I borrowed a couple from the library. I read about Ellen Tebbits who wanted a best friend and for that awful Otis Spofford to leave her alone; Beezus Quimby, who has to deal with a young Ramona, when she was truly a pest; and Henry Huggins, who inspired me to get a paper route because he had a paper route.
All these characters lived on Klickitat Street in Portland, Oregon. I always wanted to live on Klickitat Street. There was no crime or gangs, no one calling people names except Pieface or Pest. Sometimes scary things happened like when Ramona's dad lost his job, but they muddled through, did the best they could, and survived and, at times, even thrived.
I always kept my Ramona books. Ten years ago, when a new book, Ramona's World, came out, I bought it right away. I showed it to Carol, the children's librarian at my library. "Oh my gosh," she said. "Beezus is getting so grown-up! She looks like her mother!" Mention Beverly Cleary to people, and they smile and say: "Oh yeah. I loved Ramona."
This is why I am thrilled to announce that Mrs. Cleary is now a Red Room author! To welcome her to our community, and to celebrate her birthday (Mrs. Cleary will be 93 on April 12th), this week Red Room will celebrate Drop Everything and Read Day (DEAR for short.) DEAR was created by Mrs. Cleary in her Newberry Honor book Ramona Quimby Age 8 where Ramona's teacher Mrs. Whaley announced to the class that every day no matter what, for fifteen minutes the class could read what they checked out at the library. It could be a mystery, could be a western, just as long as they stopped what they were doing and read.
Now I know that in the Red Room, almost all of us drop everything and read on a daily basis. However, this week we are offering a challenge:
1. Write about one of Beverly Cleary's books that touched or changed you, and upload it to your Red Room blog. If you're feeling inspired, you might even create a video or a podcast of you or a child reading one of Mrs. Cleary's books.
2. Write about a children's book that touched or changed you. Before Mrs. Cleary was a writer, she was a children's librarian, and it would be wonderful to hear what our community would have to say about children's books they loved.
At the Drop Everything and Read Club, I've put a list where there will be a list of DEAR events at libraries and schools. If you know of any events that are missing from the list, feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com and I'll add them for you, or join the club and share them with the other members.
I know I'm not the only one here who wanted to live on Klickitat Street, and I know I'm not the only one who wants to wish Beverly Cleary a very happy birthday, and very warm welcome to Red Room.
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Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries