Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I'm working on revising and expanding the paper I gave at the conference in China, "Wimpy Boys and Spunky Girls: The Image of the Gendered Child in Postwar American Children's Literature," for the book that will be created from the conference presentations. For one thing, the paper needs a more informative title, for it is really a paper on the Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby books of Beverly Cleary, which in my view created a certain archetype of a hapless boy who has various misfortunes befall him versus an exuberant girl who is filled with unconventional ideas for irrepressible adventures.

As part of this task, I'm now reading Beverly Cleary's two memoirs: A Girl From Yamhill and My Own Two Feet.  As a child, Cleary herself was very like Ramona.  I've read 130 pages so far, and in the space of those pages little Beverly has put inky hand prints all over the white damask tablecloth at the family's Thanksgiving dinner and set off on a walk around the world as well as a walk around the ledge beneath her home's mansard roof.  In fact, little Beverly is exactly like little Ramona in puzzling over the words of the song about the "dawnzer lee light"  and naming her doll after a motor vehicle: a car for Ramona (Chevrolet) and a tractor for Beverly (Fordson-Lafayette).

I've just reached the part of the book where Beverly Cleary has her first success as a writer, winning two dollars in a contest sponsored by Keds shoes for the best essay about an animal.  Then she finds out that nobody else had entered the contest.  This doesn't take away from Cleary's delight in her prize.  Instead, it gives her "one of the most valuable lessons in writing I ever learned. Try! Others will talk about writing but may never get around to trying."

Yes! Success in writing belongs to those who try, those who sit down with pencil and paper and actually put words on the page, and then actually submit those words for publication. Unwritten stories win no prizes. Ditto for stories that aren't submitted. One of my sons once cried when he didn't win a drawing contest he hadn't even entered. Write! Draw! Enter! Submit! You may even win two dollars once of these days. Who knows?

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