Ramona and Her Complexities

We recently started reading Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series to Lily. I thought it would be a nice, easy introduction to chapter books. Little did I know how many deep, complicated subjects I would have to explain in one book. While reading “Ramona and Her Father”, I felt like I had to stop every 5 minutes to explain a complex issue. Here are just a few of the examples of what I had to explain to Lily while reading this book:

*Ramona’s father loses his job in the first chapter. I had to explain why it was important for Ramona’s dad to have a job and what it meant for the family that he no longer had one. She was horrified by the prospect that any daddy anywhere can lose a job for no reason (or even for a reason) and that would mean that a family wouldn’t have money. We’ve talked about how some people don’t have much money in the past, but it was a revelation to her that it could happen to anyone, including her friends and family. She got kind of upset about it, but I explained (perhaps naively) that if daddy ever lost his job we would work together as a family to make sure she still had everything she needed.

*Ramona’s father is a smoker. Ramona convinces her dad to stop smoking because she is (rightly) worried that cigarettes could kill him. No one in our family has ever smoked during the time she’s been alive. My dad smoked in the 1970s, but that’s such a thing of the past that Lily has no way of knowing about it. It’s not exactly being reenacted 30 years later. I had to explain what cigarettes were and why Mr. Quimby wanted to smoke them, which meant…

*I had to explain addiction in full. At some point Mr. Quimby has a small relapse and smokes a cigarette. I had to explain why this happened and how sometimes people get addicted to different substances, including the beer we currently have in our fridge. I had to explain why it was so hard for someone to kick an addiction. The very notion that some substances were bad was a new thing for her. I suppose it’s good for her to learn now. I remember learning to “Say no to drugs!” in first grade (Thanks, Nancy Reagan!). However, I didn’t know that reading Ramona would be when this subject came up! I guess I’m glad to have opened the door to it, but wow! Ramona opens the door to an addiction lecture? Who knew?!

*We are secular Jews. I haven’t discussed religion with Lily as much as I should have by this point because I’ve never been a very religious person. I am trying harder lately to get more in depth about what it all means and what we believe. Ramona is Christian and participates in a nativity scene at church which means…

I had to tell the entire Christmas story, what a nativity scene was, what Christ means to Christians and why Jewish people like us believe something different. WHEW! I wasn’t expecting to have to discuss all that at that moment. I suppose I could have glossed over the chapter, but she asked me what a nativity scene was and I felt like a failure that she didn’t know yet so… freaking Ramona opened a deep religious discussion at our house.

Seriously. Ramona made me talk about Jesus and Judaism. Ramona! I had no idea.

I suppose this is why reading to your children is so important– so that you are forced to tackle all those issues you may have not gotten around to bringing up just yet. But still… Ramona? All this came out of Ramona? Who knew. I had to explain death in depth when Charlotte died at the end of “Charlotte’s Web”, but I saw that one coming. All I saw coming with Ramona was a little girl who was creative and sometimes rambunctious– not multiple lectures about complex subjects even adults have trouble understanding.

I wonder what sort of trouble I’ll get myself into if we start reading Judy Blume’s “Superfudge” series? And what other giant concepts I’ll have to explain when we read the rest of the Ramona books? Perhaps I need to go study up on how to explain adult issues to children?

Ramona. SERIOUSLY. Who knew?


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