Joey King, who plays the mischievous Ramona in the upcoming movie "Ramona and Beezus," has no trouble identifying with her character, the beloved Ramona Quimby from the Beverly Cleary book series.
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King, 11, said she roller-skates in the house, toilet-papers her older sisters' rooms and freezes their bras. “I can connect with (Ramona) because I have a big personality like her,” King said.
It can be hard to believe that Cleary created Ramona in 1955. The protagonist of the series is technically decades older than her readers, but generations of young girls still relate to the Quimby family. The publisher of the books, as well as the makers of the film, are hoping that Cleary’s ability to write timeless classic novels will translate into a movie that can appeal to old fans and bring in a new audience.
“I think the movie is going to breed a whole new generation of life into the series,” said Judy Newman, president of Scholastic Book Clubs. “It’s not only going to draw them to (one) book but to all the books. Once you start one, you want to read your way through the entire series.”
Not just for kids
The success of some book-to-movie adaptations, such as “Babe” (adapted from Dick King-Smith’s “The Sheep Pig”) or the “Harry Potter” series, have proven that so-called kid’s movies have an audience of all ages. The summer blockbuster “Toy Story 3,” while not book based, was able to please both adult critics and children alike. Cleary’s books have already done that, but publishers and moviemakers are hoping that the film version can have similar success.
“I think that Beverly Cleary has a really direct connection to childhood and the feelings that she had as a child, like longing for security and recognition,” said Barbara Lalicki, senior vice president and editorial director of HarperCollins Children’s Books.
But when movies are made from beloved books, it's always possible that someone ends up disappointed. “Where the Wild Things Are” didn't show the same kind of on-screen magic that made it such a beloved book. And M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender” received negative reviews from adults while still managing to pull in box-office bank from kid audiences.
“Ramona and Beezus” is based off Cleary's entire Quimby series, but focuses on “Ramona Quimby, Age 8” and “Ramona and Her Father” in order to have an older protagonist. (Ramona is only 4 in the “Beezus and Ramona” book.)
Lalicki said HarperCollins representatives and 94-year-old Beverly Cleary herself worked closely with the movie’s director and screenwriters to keep the film as true to the series as possible.
“The people who were working behind the scenes knew the Ramona books and loved them,” Lalicki said. “They wanted to pass Ramona on to the next generation.”
A reader's rite of passage
Long before the film was envisioned or cast, Cleary's books had been handed down from mother to child as a “rite of passage,” said Newman of Scholastic Book Clubs. She gave the books to her own children when they were around 8 and remembers seeing her son and daughter play-acting as Beezus and Ramona. “They’ll kill me if I say this!” she said with a laugh.
King said she read 1981's “Ramona Quimby, Age 8” first, but after getting the role, read the entire series together with her mother. “It was really fun to read the books with my mom because we both had the same reactions, and we were laughing at the same parts,” King said.
Those on the publishing side of the Quimby book series aren’t worried about a generation gap. The books remain at the top of the Scholastic Book Club’s best-seller list, said Newman, adding the book series still sells with or without the movie promotion.
“The issues are the same for kids all over,” Newman said. The timelessness of the stories are transcendent. The book covers reflect more contemporary stories, but the book remains the same. It remains true to every kid.”
Still, they are counting on the movie bringing more fans and attention to the series. The company is giving away copies of the “Beezus and Ramona” book to fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders who order from the Scholastic Book Club in July.
Elizabeth Bird, senior children’s librarian at New York Public Library’s children’s center at 42nd Street, said that the movie is already bringing more attention to the book. Bird said that the beauty of the Ramona series is that they don’t feel as dated, since Cleary continually wrote the books until the release of “Ramona’s World” in 1999. Kids today can get a lot out of “Ramona and Her Father,” which was written in 1977, since it talks about the depression Ramona’s father goes into after losing his job. The series’ willingness to talk about difficult topics is what kept it so popular, Bird said by e-mail.
“You should see my Beverly Cleary section right now,” she wrote. “It looks like it was devoured by wild beasts. And the best part is that they're not just looking for 'Beezus and Ramona' (the book's title, the name order was switched for the movie) but everything else Cleary wrote as well.”
Bird runs a book club for 9- to 12-year-olds, and said that the release of the movie has put the book in consideration for her reading list. “It's a great way to compare and contrast the title with the cinematic version,” Bird said.
“Years ago there was a contest that we had for kids that asked, ‘If you feel that you are like Ramona, send us your photo,” HarperCollins' Lalicki explained. “We got photographs from boys and girls and all ethnicities. (They) all share Ramona’s spirit.”
It’s that feeling of universal community that the movie’s producers are counting on to bring both parents and children into the theater.
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