Fifteen (1958): Did you know that Beverly Cleary has been writing books since the 1950s? Did you know she wrote YA and not just juvenile fiction? If you answered yes to those questions, you are much more informed on Cleary's body of work than I was before my immersion week. That said, the first thing I will always think about when I think of Fifteen? Horse meat. Jane Purdy is just a regular girl, babysitting, chatting with her best friend, and hoping to get a beau like the cool cardigan-wearing, convertible-riding girls in her class. What follows is a story of first love between Jane and the new boy in town, Stan, who happens to have a job delivering horse meat for pet food all around town. It will make you wish people were more up front in relationships and at least in my case, wish you could live in the 1950s. So adorable. 4/5 stars.
Two Dog Biscuits (1986): I really didn't like this picture book at all. Twins, a boy and a girl, are given two milkbone dog biscuits. They leave them in various places around the house until they decide to give them to dogs. They then go around town seeing all sorts of dogs with their biscuits in their pockets and VETO EACH ONE for reasons like the size of the dog or the fact that the dog barked. They go home and feed both bones to their cat. Their parents didn't think a cat would eat them, but it did. Lesson everyone is supposed to learn: Sometimes parents don't know everything. Lesson I learned: These twins are monsters. Who teases dogs like that? And what parent would let their kids tease dogs like that? 1/5 stars.
Muggie Maggie (1990): This is a very short juvenile fiction book--it probably took me about 20 minutes to read it, probably less than that. Maggie is an obstinate girl who refuses to learn cursive. Despite the efforts of her parents and teachers, Maggie doesn't see why she should learn it, even though she is very intelligent and things seem to come very easily to her. Maggie's teacher figures out a way to work with others in the school to trick Maggie into realizing she should learn. I thought Maggie was really frustrating, though I bet it has something to do with the bit of smartass elementary-aged me that I saw in the character. I read recently that many schools are phasing out cursive in their curriculum and I couldn't/can't stop thinking about how odd it would be to have everything written in regular handwriting. What about signatures?! 3/5 stars.
Beezus and Ramona (1955): It was written in the fifties! Mind blown. Of course I remembered some of Ramona's antics before I started reading, but again, it was mostly because I watched the made-for-TV movies in elementary school. (and I'll admit that I've also seen the newish movie with Ginnifer Goodwin, John Corbett, and Selena Gomez...several times) Ramona is entertaining in the same was as Amelia Bedelia is--she does things and doesn't always realize the ramifications of her actions or that what she is doing is wrong. The sibling relationship is actually really believable because Cleary doesn't try to make it sound like siblings get along all the time. In fact, Beezus is often embarrassed of Ramona or just absolutely annoyed by Ramona's actions. I do really enjoy the series but it gets a bit repetitive. Ramona does something outrageous, her family finds a way to downplay it, or they don't, but then everyone comes to realize that Ramona's uniqueness is what makes her personality, and that everyone loves everyone, amen. I still totally liked it, but I can only handle one at a time. 4/5 stars.
The Mouse and the Motorcycle (1965): So, so adorable. A sprawling family of mice lives in a small, older hotel. The naturally curious Ralph gets himself in trouble when he spies the car collection of a young boy who is staying at the hotel with his family. Ralph and the boy develop a friendship after the boy sees him and then offers to let Ralph use his toy motorcycle at night. I loved that the mouse family operated similarly to a human family, not that that particular idea is groundbreaking, but Beverly Cleary created a cute mother-son relationship with Ralph and his mom, and I loved that he knew he shouldn't be doing a lot of the things he did with the motorcycle and exploring. I also did not remember the plot of this book, beyond Ralph just borrowing the motorcycle and riding around the hotel, but there is a great storyline that surrounds the boy getting sick and having no access to any medications and Ralph's mission to retrieve the fabled aspirin hidden somewhere in the hotel that was the subject of mouse cautionary tales. 4.5/5 stars.
The Real Hole (1996): The Real Hole features those aforementioned monster twins from Two Dog Biscuits, only this time the boy twin doesn't want to play anything "imaginary" with his sister and prefers instead to do only "real" things. So his parents give him a child-size shovel (a trench digger, actually) and he proceeds to dig a big hole in the yard. What I found interesting about this book was the fact that it doesn't really encourage imagination. The boy's sister suggests all of these fanciful ways they could utilize a hole but the boy is not interested. For safety's sake (thank goodness for that!), their parents won't let them just keep a deep hole in the yard, so they come up with a very practical use for it. (SPOILER ALERT: They plant a tree.) This is a very short picture book--probably a five minute readalong with children. 3/5 stars.
The Luckiest Girl (1958): The Luckiest Girl was my favorite read of the week. It was the second YA romance of Cleary's I read and though I liked the first one (Fifteen), I truly enjoyed this one even more. There seems to be such a practicality about the way Cleary's characters interact in her young adult books, and I wonder how much of it is due to the author's choice and how much is the time period in which the book was written. Imagine what YA books would be like now if characters gave each other the chance to explain their actions to prevent misunderstandings and if people were jealous of others but not catty about it. Another aspect I loved about this book was the running theme that what you wish for might not be as great as what you have and that different is not necessarily better or worse, it's just different. Shelley Latham moves from rainy Portland down to California for a school year, to live with her mother's best friend and her family. She's never been to California and it's a totally different world for her, with orange groves, a sprawling house, tons of sun, and a large and open family who do everything differently than she is used to. She pines for the hotshot player on the basketball team with his good looks and surprises herself when she snags him, but maybe it isn't all it's cracked up to be? It was so nice to read about a girl who thought about how a guy acted towards other people in school, how seriously he took his studies, how he acted around children, etc. instead of reading about endless attraction to bad boys. (I really hate using the term "bad boys." And now I have the COPS theme song stuck in my head.) Beverly Cleary did a great job of making the book and its characters seem morally upright but not chaste and definitely not overtly sending a message. I think it is just a perfect example of high school romance in the fifties. 5/5 stars.
Of all the books I read during my Clearly Beverly Cleary week, I'd most highly recommend reading The Luckiest Girl, Dear Mr. Henshaw, and Fifteen, though I would totally recommend the Ellen, Ramona, and Ralph S. Mouse series. If you'd like to read a week of children's books with me, let me know! I definitely want to do a week of the authors I mentioned about, but I'm open to trying a few others. Have you ever tried a week of just one author? Or read every single book by an author who has written more than ten books?