for Henry, Ribsy, Beezus
Thank you very much
The other day I wrote about how a book I was reading made me laugh out loud.
I clearly remember the first time a book I was reading made me laugh, I mean really laugh, not the polite guffaw, but the unable to suppress hilarity and I don’t care who knows it laugh.
It was in 4th grade and I was reading to myself.
If I was reading to myself in 4th grade there is a good chance it was during a time I was supposed to be doing something else.
Most likely arithmetic.
If I was reading, I was being quiet.
Me being quiet was not a state of affairs that any teacher wanted to interrupt.
I was happy.
She was happy.
I was reading the book Henry and Beezus by Beverly Cleary.
Most likely the book was tucked inside my arithmetic book.
Henry was in a crowd at a bike auction with his friend Beezus and her little sister, the now very famous Ramona.
At that time in literary history, Ramona was still a footnote and not a defining character.
I was rolling through the words and could feel the hot crowd of sullen people gathered at a Police Auction of old bikes.
I was there at the auction for all intents and purposes.
I certainly was not following along with the arithmetic lesson.
Henry and Beezus and I were stuck in the crowd, surrounded by tall adults with no room to see.
All seemed hopeless in the airless, hot crowd.
When Ramona yells out, “I am going to throw up!”
Have you seen or experienced something so funny that you lose yourself in the humor of the situation?
Laughter burst out of me with the same explosiveness as if I HAD thrown up.
Maybe the fact that I suffered from ‘barfphobia’ the fear of throwing up in public made it extra funny.
I was there and I heard and saw the crowd react, which was to get out of the way and get out of the way quick.
I laughed and laughed.
And laughed and laughed.
This is where the magic that followed me my whole life steps into the story.
After a bit the mists cleared and I came back to the classroom.
I realized someone was calling, “Mr. Hoffman?”
It was my teacher.
My teacher, at the time ‘Miss’ Critchell, who later became a very dear friend, was looking at me.
The arithmetic lesson had stopped.
Everyone in class had stopped.
Everyone was looking at me.
Everyone could see that I had a book open inside my arithmetic book.
But it was too funny.
I could see and hear Ramona and I could feel just the way Henry felt.
“Oh that Ramona,” I said out loud.
“She had to throw up!”
Miss Critchell wanted to laugh.
Miss Critchell tried really had to not laugh.
But I could tell, she wanted to laugh.
Maybe she remembered reading this part of the book.
I was in for it I knew.
“Why don’t you close your book and join us for bit,” said Miss Critchell.
No appointment to see the Principal.
I put Henry and Beezus into my desk and life went on.
And I can remember the relief like it was yesterday.
I read all the Henry Huggins books.
I read them all several times.
Had I known I would have made a mark on the inside cover like I did later with “The Caine Mutiny” to know how many times I had read them.
Somehow Beverly Cleary really understood the way kids brains worked.
Why a kid wanted a bike.
Why a boy could not ride a girls bike.
Why a clubhouse was the single most cool thing, after a tree house, any kid could every want.
According to Wikipedia, “As a children’s librarian, Cleary empathized with her young patrons, who had difficulty finding books with characters they could identify with, and she struggled to find enough books to suggest that would appeal to them. After a few years of making recommendations and performing live storytelling in her role as librarian, Cleary decided to start writing children’s books about characters that young readers could relate to. Cleary has said, “I believe in that ‘missionary spirit’ among children’s librarians. Kids deserve books of literary quality, and librarians are so important in encouraging them to read and selecting books that are appropriate.”
See that line, decided to start writing children’s books about characters that young readers could relate to?
I knew every kid in the Henry Huggins books.
I hated and feared Scooter.
I really like Beezus.
Was I Ramona?
They were all my friends.
Ernest Hemingway wrote something along the line of if what you write becomes part of the collective experience of the reader, you are indeed a writer.
TO THIS DAY I think the first bite of any apple tastes the best.
In the book Beezus and Ramona, Beezus hears a CHOMP … bump bump bump.
She investigates and finds Ramona by a crate of apples surrounded by a dozens of apples on the floor.
Each apple has one bite taken out of it.
As Beezus watches, Ramona selects an apple and bites it, CHOMP, and drops it, bump bump bump.
Ramona looks at Beezus and says, “You know how the first bite tastes best?”
The thought became part of my collective consciousness.
Using the Hemingway test, Ms. Cleary was indeed a writer.
Ms. Cleary it was announced Friday, has died.
She was 104.
She was named a Living Legend in 2000 by the Library of Congress. In 2003, she was chosen as one of the winners of the National Medal of Arts and met George W Bush. Her books have won awards, and she is lauded in literary circles far and wide.
In and interview she once said, “By sixth or seventh grade, “I decided that I was going to write children’s stories,” she said.”
I hope she knew how much I enjoyed her books.
They are a river that ran though my life.
And I am grateful for it.
Thank you very much.