Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lessons from Ramona

Remember the Ramona Quimby books? I received my first Ramona book in 1984 as a gift from my parents, and I haven’t stopped reading them since. Every once in a while I still pick them up for a chuckle and a little nostalgia.

I’ve learned a lot from Ramona over the years. Below are just a few of those priceless “Lessons from Ramona”:

1. Be creative in solving problems. – Ramona is always creative when faced with difficult problems. In Ramona Quimby: Age 8, Ramona’s teacher gives her the book The Left-Behind Cat for a book report. Ramona doesn’t like the book and doesn’t want to be a nuisance, but she can’t picture herself standing up in front of the class and presenting a plain, boring, old book report. Her father suggests that she sell the book to her class. After all, she’s watched enough television commercials and should know exactly how to present any product. So Ramona gets busy in her “studio” and makes three cat masks, one for herself and two more for her friends, Sara and Janet. On book report day, Ramona’s faithful, masked friends keep up a chorus of meows while a masked Ramona begins to sell her book. Unfortunately, she has probably spent more time on the cat masks then on memorizing her presentation because right in the middle, she completely forgets what she meant to say. Creative to the end, Ramona, after a short pause, exclaims, “I can’t believe I read the whole thing!”

2. Sometimes imagination can go too far. – Creative Ramona has an imagination that doesn’t quit, but she often ends up in trouble when her strong imagination gets carried away. In Ramona’s World, Ramona and her best friend Daisy spend a wonderful afternoon playing dress-up at Daisy’s house. Wonderful, that is, until their imaginations carry them a little too far. Daisy (the wicked witch in her black velvet gown and green hat) pushes Ramona (the beautiful princess in her long, pink dress and high-heeled sandals) into the attic (a dark dungeon). Ramona, the princess, struggles valiantly, only to lose her balance, step off the solid attic boards, and fall through the lath and plaster. She stops halfway through so that her bare legs are dangling from the ceiling over the dining room table. Much to Ramona’s embarrassment, and relief, Daisy’s brother rescues her from her predicament, none the worse for wear except for a few scratches and a lesson that sometimes a good imagination might be too much of a good thing.

3. Make due with what you have. – In Ramona and Her Father, Ramona has the opportunity to be a sheep in the Sunday School Christmas play. She wants to be a sheep so much that she volunteers her mother to make her a nice, fluffy sheep costume. Mrs. Quimby, however, works full time and simply doesn’t have several hours to spare on sewing. Ramona fusses and fumes when her mother presents her with a sheep costume made out of some old, worn pajamas with pink bunnies on them, rolled up black socks for hooves, a terry-cloth tail, and a terry-cloth hood with ears. After seeing her friend Howie’s wooly, soft costume, Ramona decides that she is simply not going to be a sheep if she has to wear old pajamas. She hides beneath a Christmas tree in the church basement until three older girls (who were portraying the Three Wise Persons) find her. They exclaim over Ramona, calling her adorable, and with a little mascara, they give her a nice, sheep-like black nose. Ramona decides that maybe it isn’t so bad to be a sheep after all. Maybe she could make due with the costume she has, especially with her adorable black nose. Ramona’s Christmas spirit returns, and she lets out a joyful “B-a-a!” just to let everyone know how happy she is to be a sheep.

4. Names really do hurt. – There’s an old saying that runs, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Ramona learns otherwise in Ramona Forever. Her sister Beezus is experiencing typical teenage angst over acne. She keeps busy washing her face with medicated soap several times a day and avoiding any foods that might give her more pimples. The girls’ parents agree to let them stay home alone after school if they behave themselves, and things go along smoothly for a while…at least until Ramona’s friend, Howie, comes over to let Ramona ride his new bike. Beezus decides to play her big-sister-in-charge role and tells Ramona that she can’t go out unless she asks first. Ramona informs Beezus that she is being just plain bossy and mean, and she punctuates her words with “So long, Pizzaface” and firm door slam. Ramona knows immediately that she has crossed a line. Beezus’ face crumples almost into tears even as her sister closes the door. Names really do hurt, and only the death of a beloved pet reconciles the two girls.

5. Take control of the situation. – Also in Ramona Forever, Ramona learns that sometimes she just has to take control of a situation. As a bridesmaid in her aunt’s wedding, Ramona’s official job is to stand perfectly still at the front of the church and look pretty. But when the best man accidently drops the wedding ring (which had been attached too tightly to ring bearer Howie’s pillow), Ramona decides that she needs to take charge. She is, after all, the only one who knows where the ring landed. The bride had stepped back into it during the search, and it was glittering on the heal of her sandal. Ramona carefully lays her bouquet on the carpet, gets down on her hands and knees, crawls over to her aunt, grabs the bride’s ankle to lift up her leg, removes the ring, hands it to the best man, and returns to her place, pleased that she had saved the day.

6. Think before you act. – Now and then, just like the rest of us, Ramona acts before she thinks and has to face the consequences. Ramona is in first grade in Ramona the Brave, and she has some major “owl trouble” just before parents’ night. The class is busy creating owls out of paper bags when Ramona notices that the girl in the next desk, Susan, is copying her work. Ramona makes her owl look off to the right. So does Susan. Ramona gives her owl spectacles to make it look wise. So does Susan. Ramona tries to hide her owl so Susan couldn’t copy anything else, but she covers her work too well, and the teacher picks up Susan’s copied owl and exclaims over it. Ramona is furious! Now the class is going to think that Ramona copied Susan’s owl instead of the other way around. Ramona doesn’t stop to think what she’s doing. She crumples her beautiful owl and throws it away. No one was going to call her “Ramona Copycat.” But Ramona does not stop there. All week long, she has to look at all the owls lined up across the blackboard. She becomes more and more angry. Then, on the afternoon of parents’ night, the class sets their owls up on their desks for their parents to admire. Susan gives her owl a smug little pat, and that is the last straw for Ramona. She doesn’t stop to think. She just acts. She seizes Susan’s owl and crushes it. Throwing the twisted bag on the floor, she runs out of the room. By the time she gets home, Ramona realizes that she has done a horrible thing and will be in big trouble when her parents find out. Thankfully, her parents are understanding people, but they do insist that Ramona apologize to Susan. To Ramona’s horror, her teacher makes her stand up in front of the whole class to make her apologies. Ramona does get the last word, though, as she whispers to Susan, “Even if she is a copycat who – stinks!”

7. Don’t follow the crowd. - In Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Ramona is in third grade, and she enjoys the various fads popular with her classmates. After being left out of the last fad (individual bags of corn chips), Ramona is pleased to participate in the current fad, hard-boiled eggs. With a hard-boiled egg tucked firmly in her lunchbox, Ramona heads off to school one fall morning, eager for lunch time. The whole purpose of bringing a hard-boiled egg to school is, of course, the pleasure and humor of cracking that egg on one’s forehead. Who cares about eating it, after all? At lunch time, Ramona saves her egg for last, just to build up the drama. She grabs the egg and knocks it soundly against her head. Then…yuck! Ramona finds herself covered in sticky, icky raw egg! Mrs. Quimby, caught up in the morning rush, had grabbed an egg from the wrong shelf in the refrigerator. Humiliated and eggy, Ramona dashes out of the cafeteria to seek the help of the ever-patient school secretary, Mrs. Larson. Ramona has learned that sometimes following the crowd can lead her into a real mess.

8. Make a joyful noise. – Perhaps Ramona’s most important lesson is about joy. Even with all her troubles, Ramona is a happy, often joyful, girl. She delights in the simple things of life, things like sharp crayons, gummy bears, good books, drawing sessions with her father, tin-can stilts, new pajamas, tasty hamburgers at the Whopperburger, and grown-up letters. And she knows how to make a joyful noise to the Lord. At the beginning of Ramona and Her Father, Ramona is happily making out her Christmas list (in September) and singing “Ye-e-ep!” When her mother asks her what all the yeeping is about, Ramona cheerfully explains, “I’m making a joyful noise until [sic] the Lord like they say in Sunday school. Only they don’t tell us what the joyful noise sounds like so I made up my own.” Another priceless lesson from Ramona…

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