I am not embarrassed to say I love to go back and read children’s books that I read as a child, or to my students. One of the things that strikes me as odd is how quickly political correctness and social awareness have ended the life of many good books. I re-read “Ramona the Pest” by Beverly Cleary, which was written about forty-two years ago. Since I was keeping my husband company in his hospital ER room, I shared the story by reading it to him. I have always thought of that series as adorable and fun to read.
Things that used to be regarded as “cute” and “typical’, now are regarded with distaste or banned by law. Georgie Porgie kissed the girls. Was he a pervert? When the boys came out to play and caused him to run away, was it because they were bullies? Ramona started kindergarten and decided she wanted to kiss Davey. She chased and chased him, but he always got away. It used to mean nothing. Now it can result in expulsion and many trips to counseling.
Ramona becomes unhappy with school for several reasons. One is that she wants her teacher to love her. Oh, no! Is she a potential stalker, fixating on targeted people? She is upset that a substitute teacher is in the classroom one day, and shows her displeasure by hiding behind the trash cans. Some of the older kids find her. They get her older sister, who takes her to the principal. The principal is the steadiest character in the book. She takes control of the situation, explains why the teacher could not be in class, and takes Ramona to meet the substitute and participate in class. Although Ramona stays till class is over, she silently criticizes nearly everything the sub does, indicating a subversive undermining of her superiors.
Another day has Ramona’s mother leaving her alone until it is time to go to school, as the mom has to take Ramona’s sister to an appointment. The element of potential child neglect now creeps into the book.
Eventually Ramona’s fascination with another girl’s springy curls leads her into trouble. She not only pulls one gently to make it “boing” back, her actions lead to other students doing the same thing. Oh, dear, Ramona won’t stop, either. Is Ramona not only a bully, but withholding repressed envy or homosexual tendencies?
Ramona’s teacher ‘benches’ her outside. This is definitely a sign of irresponsibility on the school’s part. Her teacher tells her she cannot stay in school unless she promised to leave the girl’s hair alone. Ramona announces that she will not be able to do that. She is sent home until she can comply with the request.
When she arrives home, Ramona realizes she left her first lost tooth with the teacher. Convinced it will be thrown away, and not wanting to alert anyone to the missing tooth, she stays quiet. Her mother, of course, is quite upset when Ramona refuses to go to school. Her father is subtle in trying to get her to discuss the problem, but gets no answers. The older sister brings home an envelope one day for Ramona from the teacher. Inside she finds her tooth and a note, which she cannot read. The mom reads the note to Ramona, who decides her teacher does like her, after all, and that perhaps she can abstain from ‘boinging’ curls. Perhaps the mention of the truant officer by one of her sister’s friends compelled her to make the decision, as well.
It is always important to read a book before sharing it with others, as what we read the first time may be changed by what we read into it the second time. A sweet book became a cultural nightmare! With liberal censorship, feel free to share this book with your students.