Beezus and Ramona Quimby enjoy a level of independence that many young readers today will never experience first-hand during childhood. The fictional Quimby girls walk to the library on their own at only nine and four-years-old, the four-year-old plays at the playground without anyone watching her, and they stay at home by themselves.
Would their parents allow them to do any of that now?
The stars of Beverly Cleary’s beloved Ramona Quimby series made their debut in the 1950s, when the United States was a different place. How we raise our children has changed quite a bit in that time — for better and for worse.
I assume the freedom Ramona and her sister enjoyed in their 1950s fictional world reflects the reality of the time. My own childhood in the 1980s was similar. I can’t say my parents would have left me at the park on my own at the age of four, but I played outside of our house on my own around that age. At five, I walked to the bus stop by myself. I remember dumping the carrot sticks from my lunch bag in our neighbor’s woodpile every morning before boarding the bus (Sorry, Mom and Dad! I acquired a taste for carrots later in life).
These days, before I go to work, I wait at the bus stop with my 8-year-old twins. If they want to dump anything from their lunch boxes, they’ll have to wait until they get to school. 😉
When will they be old enough to wait at the bus stop alone? I have no idea.
For now, we make the most of our time together by reading a book. They’re strong independent readers–yay for independence, whatever the form!–but I think it’s important for them to hear me read from time to time. As I said in Reading Aloud: Ephemeral Entertainment I Wish Would Last Longer:
Reading aloud to my kids — and having them read aloud to me — is one of the most enjoyable parts of parenting… Not only is it an opportunity for me to model literacy for them and assess their reading progress, but it also gives me a chance to talk to my children about topics that wouldn’t come up otherwise.
Hearing the way I pronounce words has been particularly helpful for my girls, who have wondered why so many English words don’t sound the way they should (“It’s not ‘is-land,’ kiddos!”).
Our current “bus stop book” is Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat, a non-fiction work by Kay Frydenborg that teaches us the difference between “cacao” and “cocoa” (another word that isn’t pronounced the way it’s spelled):
So the tree is cacao, and cocoa is the substance that is made from the seeds of the tree. The parts of the cacao tree that are not processed into cocoa, such as the leaves and flowers, remain cacao. And we shouldn’t confused either of these terms with coca (pronounced ko-ka), the evergreen shrub from which the drug cocaine is made.
The book is best for young teenagers, but my 8-year-olds have no trouble understanding it with my help. Our foray into the past and present significance of chocolate has broadened my daughters’ vocabulary as well as their understanding of world history, starting with the indigenous tribes in the Americas that learned how to turn bitter seeds into a delicious chocolate.
For Europeans, their interaction with cacao begins with Christopher Columbus, who mistook the seeds for strange-looking almonds.
The book’s modern portrayal of Columbus as a “confused man” who stole treasures from the so-called New World and went to his grave believing he’d been in Asia is quite different from the favorable way Beverly Cleary’s Beezus describes him to her younger sister. Beezus calls him “the man who discovered America,” yet another reminder–along with Beezus and Ramona’s independence–that the Ramona Quimby series comes from another time.
*Thank you to the Clark County Public Library’s blog for the book recommendation!