Tag Archives: writing for children

Beverly Cleary Forever

One of my favorite authors turned 100 today. The amazing Ms. Beverly Cleary, author of the first chapter book I ever read (Ramona Quimby, Age 8, when I was, fittingly, 8 years old), has been telling stories to kids for generations, since she published her first book in 1950. (Who else learned what bluing was because of her?) I grew up with her characters regardless of what decade they lived in. I freaked out with Ramona when her dad lost his job because my dad had just lost his. I maybe even stole some of her cigarette-hiding ideas to get my dad to quit (it didn’t work). I commiserated with Ellen Tebbits about changing in front of people when I was a dancer (luckily woolen underwear was not a thing by my day–also who wears underwear with dance tights, Ellen?). And I learned more about writing and character development than I ever realized at the time. Thanks, Beverly Cleary.

With that, in honor of her birthday, here are four of her books you have to read right now. Even if you don’t have kids to read them with. Just read them.

1. Ramona the Pest

ramona

Ramona starts kindergarten. She discovers things like Susan’s boingy curls that she just has to pull and the joy of brand-new boots. This remains one of my favorite books of all time.
Highlights: So many! Ramona being told to “sit here for the present” and thinking that she’ll get an actual present, and then she’s afraid to go outside for recess because she might not get her present anymore if she gets up.
Ramona telling Beezus to turn on the “dawnzer” when it’s too dark in the room (“it gives a lee light”).
Ramona’s mom telling her to leave for school at “quarter-past,” and a quarter is worth twenty-five cents, so she therefore leaves at twenty-five past. And everything looks different because it’s later than usual, and also she’s five years old and walking to school alone–wow 1950s, you don’t play around.

2. Fifteen

fifteen

Jane Purdy is fifteen and starts dating her first boyfriend, Stan Crandall, who is just dreamy, with his green eyes and perfect tan. Why would he ever like a girl like Jane, when there are girls like Marcy Stokes around, the “cashmere-sweater types” who make Jane feel mousy and unimportant. This cover may look like 1987 threw up all over it, but the book was written in 1956. Parts of it are delightfully dated (dogs eat fresh horsemeat that gets delivered in a truck, like the milkman but, you know, horsemeat), and there are parts that make you think “how casually racist of you, Buzz Bratton, no wonder you’re not as popular as Stan,” but overall this story of first love is timeless.
Highlights: Sir Puss, the Purdy family cat, deciding to plant himself down in the middle of the living room and lick his butt while Stan is meeting the parents.
Jane’s bff Julie’s description of Stan’s date to the dance: “Everybody calls her Bitsy, because she is such a little bitsy thing….You know the type. She has to wear real high heels, because she is so little. The type that makes the other girls feel big and awkward. Especially me. She made me feel all wool and a yard wide as if I should be running around with a hockey stick instead of dancing.”

3. The Luckiest Girl

luckiest-girl

This was published only two years after Fifteen, but it always felt less dated to me for some reason. In my head it’s a 60s book even though it’s from 1958. Sixteen-year-old Shelley gets to leave rainy Oregon and travel to California for the semester, where there are orange and olive trees, and no one has ever heard of Munchkins–excuse me, doughnut holes–and star basketball player Philip Blanton likes her. But she’s young and dumb and takes almost the entire book to figure out that the real boy of her dreams was right there the whole time, sitting behind her in homeroom.
Highlights: Shelley’s pink raincoat with a black velveteen collar and matching hat with a velveteen button on top, which is completely hideous back home in Oregon but super-adorable in California. I have wanted this raincoat to be mine to this day.
“‘Mother, they’ve crowned me Queen of the May,’ exclamation point,” which shy, awkward Luke had to read in front of his class.
Shelley starting to realize that maybe Philip isn’t all that great after all…when he tells her he doesn’t want to go to college and would rather just work on trees. (“Nobody was a poor woodcutter in this day and age.”)

4. Beezus and Ramona

beezus and ramona

I was going to limit myself to just one Ramona book, but this book is for Beezus, the plain-Jane older sister whose shining moment in life came the day when Selena Gomez was cast as her in a movie. Basically Ramona spends one chapter after another ruining Beezus’ life in various ways, culminating with baking her doll into Beezus’ birthday cake. Beezus learns that sometimes it’s OK to not love your little sister when she’s being a pain in the ass. It’s kind of a shocking and also relieving message to hear when you’re a kid.
Highlights: Beezus thinking she has no imagination but managing to paint a kick-ass candy dragon in art class.
Ramona not wanting to return her steam-shovel book to the library, so she writers her “name” (aka i’s and t’s, her favorite letters) on every page.
Ramona riding her trike around the house all morning singing “I’m going to have a par-ty!” and then the family being shocked when kids start to arrive and she actually does throw herself a party. You think they’d have learned by now.

 

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D-D-D-Do You Have It?

I recently applied for the Nickelodeon Writers Fellowship, along with likely thousands of others who probably already have tv credits to their name. It was my first foray into the world of writing spec scripts, and I wrote an episode of Community. So now, NBC, you are not allowed to cancel this show at the end of the season so that I can maximize this spec’s shelf life (#sixseasonsandamovie).

Of course, since I submitted the application on February 28, I have been thinking about all of the things I must have answered horribly wrong on the short answer responses. They only give you 50 words to answer why you want the fellowship, and I didn’t go funny on my bio, and maybe I should have, though I was afraid of seeming naive and unprofessional. So there’s no way I said everything I wanted to say. I’ve been needing to get my real answer out of my system for weeks. So, I now present…

“What I Wanted to Say” (In Well Over 50 Words)
I am the biggest Classic Nickelodeon nerd. I used to have a blog recapping episodes of classic shows, Television Without Pity-style. (It is still apparently the top result when you google the immortal Busdriver Stu Benedict’s quote “Passengers will refrain from KILLING MY SOUL!!!” from Pete and Pete. Which I’m sure people google all the time.)

I grew up with Nickelodeon from the days of Pinwheel and You Can’t Do That On Television through their early 90s Golden Age. I remember Special Delivery and Marc Summers’ Halloween special. I had the Finders Keepers board game that my mom insisted on returning to the store after she realized you had to hide the game tokens by throwing your own crap from around the house into a cardboard box.

The Finders Keepers boardgame, in all its 80s glory.

In all its 80s glory.

I entered Slime Time for a good four years straight and was never called. I would seriously sit there willing my phone to ring and have it be the Slime Time people on the other end. I entered the Super Toy Run that the boys always seemed to win. I didn’t enter Nick-or-Treat because I was too embarrassed to answer the phone saying “Nick-or-Treat!” only to have it be my aunt.

The station ID bumpers and other Nick commercials are forever lodged in my brain. I could recite about ten of them right now. I remember Picture Pages, and Bananaman, and DangerMouse. And I’m probably one of the only people in the country who worries about what will happen to the Nick Time Capsule now that Nickelodeon Studios is long gone.

I tried to write an episode of Rugrats once. I think it started out as an episode of Rugrats and then morphed into my own original story. It involved ordering a birthday cake. I also was always making up pretend adventures where my brothers and I were the characters from the various Nicktoons. The first three Nicktoons premiered on August 11, 1991 (and I knew that without having to google the date), and that summer we spent a week or two up at my uncle’s lake house in New Hampshire. Nickelodeon promoted the hell out of the upcoming cartoons, so in the weeks before they actually aired, I’d make up my own stories about them based on the bit of info from the teaser ads. I was not happy when I’d been playing Angelica for weeks only to watch the show and discover that she was a heinous little bitch.

I also watch shows that I am far too old for and should be embarrassed to admit to liking. Drake and Josh could be fun, and I was convinced that Zoey 101 was a great show if you removed Zoey from it (nothing against Jamie Lynn Spears… the character was just way too perfect at absolutely everything and had zero faults). And I loved iCarly. Loved it. I was out of college when it premiered, but I didn’t care. One time, when I was still working at my scientific research publishing company, I was out sick and, of course, watching after-school iCarly (did they still call it Nick in the Afternoon by that point?). To my complete surprise, I saw an issue of my journal in one of the kids’ lockers. My scientific research journal that no one younger than college-age bio majors would ever read. I immediately had to download the episode so I could pause it and confirm. And then I sent a screenshot into my company’s newsletter with the lame excuse that I had been flipping channels and “just happened” to see it. I am probably the only person, except maybe scientists who watch tv with their kids, who cared that an issue of Cell was in iCarly.

I’ve known for a very long time that my dream job would be writing for children. Whenever I think of my favorite books, movies, or tv shows, a wide majority of them are written for kids. I want to give future kids the same memories that I had with Doug, Clarissa, and Pete and Pete. I want future 23-year-olds to shamelessly watch kids shows I wrote because they’re just that fun and awesome. I wish I could convey all of this in 50 words or less, but I can’t. They’ll just have to interview me I guess.

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