I mentioned that we've been reading the Beverly Cleary books to Tsia. They're the first real "chapter" books (as opposed to picture books) in which she's been interested, and when I say interested I mean captivated. Before this she was frightened by the rat in Charlotte's Web, and my beloved Paddington Bear is still a bit old for her. But Ramona! Well, the girl couldn't be more enthralling, could she? And the books are as good as I remember them. Maybe even better. I can't stand to miss a chapter, so when it’s Todd’s turn to read, he reads to both of us.
This fall we obsessively made our way through every Ramona story, and then we exhausted most of the Henry Huggins books as well. But Ms. Clearly is right when she says that children want to read "books about kids like us;" Tsia is definitely more interested in the stories about girls than boys (although Ribsy is pretty cool, too). Right now we're hoping that Ellen Tebbits will repair her friendship with Austine, and suddenly ballet classes sound appealing, when two weeks ago she responded with a big "NO!" upon being asked if she was interested. (Ellen and her friend Austine take ballet classes together.)
We've been borrowing Ms. Cleary's books from the public library, and I've been surprised to see that the newer copies of the books have "updated" illustrations. I still visualize Ramona as drawn by Louis Darling, the original illustrator of many of the books. From what I can gather, Mr. Darling died quite young, and several other illustrators were hired for later books. But it’s the Darling illustrations that have stayed with me, and I’m sorry that they’re being replaced. I really don’t think the newer illustrations do the books justice. When I think of Ramona, I still see her with her printed dresses, fuzzy cardigans and oxford shoes with floppy bobby socks. I completely agree with this blogger, who says that Mr. Darling’s illustrations are appealing to children and adults, in part, because of their nostalgia. They were also just beautifully composed and compelling in the way they captured the expressions and personalities of their characters. Call me whiney, complain-y and old fashioned, but I really do think the illustrations are an integral part of the books.
Todd’s parents recently sent us his copies of the books which they had saved for him, signed by Ms. Clearly herself. I’ve enjoyed paging through them to reminisce, and I’m putting them away until Tsia is old enough to read and enjoy these copies herself. I’m sure our first reading of the books was just one of many for her. But I hope that future printings of Ms. Cleary’s books will include those original illustrations so that more children can enjoy them as well.