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10 Facts About Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Books

Ramona Quimby—the protagonist of Beverly Cleary’s popular series of children's novels—has a knack for getting into trouble, whether it’s dropping out of kindergarten, squeezing a tube of toothpaste down a sink, or cracking a hard-boiled egg on her head to show off (only to find her mom forgot to boil it). While her older sister Beezus calls her a “pest,” Ramona’s imaginative and lively nature is why readers still love her all these years later.

1. Ramona Was An Accidental Character

Beezus and Ramona appeared as minor characters in Cleary’s first novel, Henry Huggins (1950). Cleary tossed Ramona into the book because she realized none of her characters had siblings. When she went to add a female friend for Henry, she included a little sister to explain Beezus’s nickname. Ramona couldn’t pronounce her real name, Beatrice, so now everyone called her Beezus.

As for the little sister’s name, Cleary overheard a neighbor outside calling to someone named Ramona and promptly put the name in the book.

2. Ramona Surprised Cleary By Sticking Around

Originally, Ramona was “just a little brat in Henry Huggins,” intended for one brief scene, but Cleary found she kept having new ideas for the character. In 1955, she wrote Beezus and Ramona, the only book in the series from Beezus’s point of view. In 1968, Cleary wrote Ramona the Pest and went on to write six more Ramona books during the 1970s and 1980s. They sold well and Ramona soon became Cleary’s most popular character.

3. Ramona Is Based On A Girl Eating Butter

Ramona was inspired by a childhood memory. One day, Cleary saw a neighbor girl walking home from the store. "She had been sent to the neighborhood store for a pound of butter," Cleary said. "In those days, it was all in one piece, not in cubes. And she had opened the butter and was eating it."

Cleary may have thrown a bit of herself into Ramona as well. In 1995, she said that, as a child, “I was very much like Ramona when I lived on the farm and was wild and free.” When she got older and moved to Portland, a bad teacher “turned me into Ellen Tebbits, a rather anxious little girl." In another interview, she added, "But I had Ramona-like thoughts!"

4. Cleary Wrote Her Books “Very Messily.”

Cleary approached writing in an intuitive way. She explained:

“I usually start with a couple of ideas, not necessarily at the beginning of the book, and I just write. Sometimes I have to go back and figure out how a character got to a particular point. In Ramona and Her Father, … I was asked to write a Christmas story about Ramona for one of the women’s magazines. I did this, and called it 'Ramona and the Three Wise Persons.' But in writing this story, I was thinking how Ramona got to the point where she was wearing a sheep costume made from old pajamas. So after that story was published, I wrote how she got to that point. So in this case, I wrote the last chapter first. Of course this is against everything people are taught about writing, but I don’t believe that outlining works for fiction because if you have it all worked out, it becomes boring.”

[PDF]

5. Klickitat Street Is A Real Place

Ramona and the rest of the characters live on Klickitat Street in Portland, Oregon, just a few blocks from Cleary's childhood home on NE 37th Street. Cleary chose the name Klickitat because it reminded her of the sound of knitting needles. Today, you can visit the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden on Klickitat Street, which has statues of Ramona, Henry, and Henry's dog, Ribsy.

6. Cleary Wrote For Real Children

One day when Cleary was working as a children’s librarian in Yakima, Washington, a group of boys asked her, “Where are the books about kids like us?” Cleary found she couldn’t answer them. What’s more, she remembered feeling the same way as a child. “I longed for funny stories about the sort of children who lived in my neighborhood,” Cleary wrote in her memoir My Own Two Feet. Soon after, she decided to try her hand at writing for and about real children.

7. Her Characters Deal With Real Issues

Cleary set a new benchmark for realistic children’s fiction. Ramona has a complex personality with good and bad traits that change as she matures. She’s emotional, and sometimes feels afraid, jealous, or neglected. Her emotional life drives her behavior, and leads to conflict.

On top of that, the Ramona books deal with real-life issues. Ramona’s dad loses his job and the family struggles financially. Her parents fight about money, which makes Beezus and Ramona worry they’ll get divorced. The cat Picky-Picky dies and Ramona and Beezus bury her in the backyard before their parents get home. These darker issues not only stuck with readers, they influenced children’s literature overall.

8. There Was A 1988 TV Show Called Ramona

The 10-episode TV show starred Sarah Polley as Ramona. Here’s the intro:

9. Until Recently, Cleary Insisted On Script Approval Of Movies

For years, Cleary turned down deals for full-length Ramona movies because she wanted script approval, feeling that she knew her characters better than a screenwriter. However, in 2010, Ramona and Beezus came out starring Selena Gomez as Beezus and Joey King as Ramona. Cleary seemed to like the movie. “Although there were scenes left out that I would have liked to see, on the whole I think it was a movie that parents could take their children to without worry," she said.

10. The Last Ramona Book Was Published In 1999

Ramona’s World came out in 1999 after a 15-year wait. Now almost 100, Cleary is retired and so we won’t be seeing another Ramona book. But Cleary thinks Ramona will “be all right” when she grows up.

"She'll do something creative. She liked to draw because her father liked to draw. Children often live out their parents' frustrations. But I don't know. I'd have to write the book to find out."

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12 Facts About Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
George C. Beresford/Getty Images
George C. Beresford/Getty Images

Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella about venturing into the moral depths of colonial Africa is among the most frequently analyzed literary works in college curricula.

1. ENGLISH WAS THE AUTHOR’S THIRD LANGUAGE.

It’s impressive enough that Conrad wrote a book that has stayed relevant for more than a century. This achievement seems all the more impressive when considering that he wrote it in English, his third language. Born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in 1857, Conrad was a native Polish speaker. French was his second language. He didn’t even know any English—the language of his literary composition—until age 21.

2. HEART OF DARKNESS BEGINS AND ENDS IN THE UK.

Though it recounts Marlow's voyage through Belgian Congo in search of Kurtz and is forever linked to the African continent, Conrad’s novella begins and ends in England. At the story’s conclusion, the “tranquil waterway” that “seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness” is none other than the River Thames.

3. THE PROTAGONIST MARLOW IS CONRAD.

The well-traveled Marlow—who appears in other Conrad works, such as Lord Jim—is based on his equally well-traveled creator. In 1890, 32-year-old Conrad sailed the Congo River while serving as second-in-command on a Belgian trading company steamboat. As a career seaman, Conrad explored not only the African continent but also ventured to places ranging from Australia to India to South America.

4. LIKE KURTZ AND MARLOW, CONRAD GOT SICK ON HIS VOYAGE.

Illness claimed Kurtz, an ivory trader who has gone mysteriously insane. It nearly claimed Marlow. And these two characters almost never existed, owing to their creator’s health troubles. Conrad came down with dysentery and malaria in Belgian Congo, and afterwards had to recuperate in the German Hospital, London, before heading to Geneva, Switzerland, to undergo hydrotherapy. Though he survived, Conrad suffered from poor health for many years afterward.

5. THERE HAVE BEEN MANY ALLEGED KURTZES IN REAL LIFE.

The identity of the person on whom Conrad based the story’s antagonist has aroused many a conjecture. Among those suggested as the real Kurtz include a French agent who died on board Conrad’s steamship, a Belgian colonial officer, and Welsh explorer Henry Morton Stanley.

6. COLONIZING WAS ALL THE RAGE WHEN HEART OF DARKNESS APPEARED.

Imperialism—now viewed as misguided, oppressive, and ruthless—was much in vogue when Conrad’s novella hit shelves. The "Scramble for Africa" had seen European powers stake their claims on the majority of the continent. Britain’s Queen Victoria was even portrayed as the colonies' "great white mother." And writing in The New Review in 1897, adventurer Charles de Thierry (who tried and failed to establish his own colony in New Zealand) echoed the imperialistic exuberance of many with his declaration: “Since the wise men saw the star in the East, Christianity has found no nobler expression.”

7. CHINUA ACHEBE WAS NOT A FAN OF THE BOOK.

Even though Conrad was no champion of colonialism, Chinua Achebe—the Nigerian author of Things Fall Apart and other novels—delivered a 1975 lecture called “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” that described Conrad as a “thoroughgoing racist” and his ubiquitous short classic as “an offensive and deplorable book.” However, even Achebe credited Conrad for having “condemned the evil of imperial exploitation.” And others have recognized Heart of Darkness as an indictment of the unfairness and barbarity of the colonial system.

8. THE BOOK WASN’T SUCH A BIG DEAL—AT FIRST.

In 1902, three years after its initial serialization in a magazine, Heart of Darkness appeared in a volume with two other Conrad stories. It received the least notice of the three. In fact, not even Conrad himself considered it a major work. And during his lifetime, the story “received no special attention either from readers or from Conrad himself,” writes Gene M. Moore in the introduction to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness: A Casebook. But Heart of Darkness managed to ascend to immense prominence in the 1950s, after the planet had witnessed “the horror”—Kurtz's last words in the book—of WWII and the ramifications of influential men who so thoroughly indulged their basest instincts.

9. T.S. ELIOT BORROWED AN IMPORTANT LINE.

Though Heart of Darkness wasn’t an immediate sensation, it evidently was on the radar of some in the literary community. The famous line announcing the antagonist’s demise, “Mistah Kurtz—he dead,” serves as the epigraph to the 1925 T.S. Eliot poem “The Hollow Men.”

10. THE STORY INSPIRED APOCALYPSE NOW.

Eighty years after Conrad’s novella debuted, the Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now hit the big screen. Though heavily influenced by Heart of Darkness, the movie’s setting is not Belgian Congo, but the Vietnam War. And though the antagonist (played by Marlon Brando) is named Kurtz, this particular Kurtz is no ivory trader, but a U.S. military officer who has become mentally unhinged.

11. HEART OF DARKNESS HAS BEEN MADE INTO AN OPERA.

Tarik O'Regan’s Heart of Darkness, an opera in one act, opened in 2011. Premiering at London’s Royal Opera House, it was reportedly the first operatic adaptation of Conrad’s story and heavily inspired by Apocalypse Now.

12. THE BOOK ALSO SPARKED A VIDEO GAME.

In a development not even Conrad’s imagination could have produced, his classic inspired a video game, Spec Ops: The Line, which was released in 2012.

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Dan Bell
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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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