Ramona Quimby was one of my favorite fictional characters when I was a kiddo. Ramona was so relatable to me, with all the scrapes she was always getting herself into and the way she often acted first and thought about it later. Her adventures, and the entire dynamic of the Quimby family and friends, made a huge impact on me -- so much so, in fact, that when creating this blog I almost named it in honor of this wonderful series of books.
I'm thrilled that Ramona has endured and continues to capture the attention of a new generation. But I can't help but wonder what fictional characters of this era will fill the same niche, especially in a multicultural sense. So many of the books I loved are absent of any diversity at all - and so many wonderful books with diversity are "issues" books, about heavy thoughts but not always about the everyday reality of life as a middle grader. The Ramonas of this world should be not just Caucasian, but Latina, African American, Asian and biracial. We need characters of color not only for the girls and boys who look like them, but for the many who don't, and who need to see their own experiences lived by someone whose life is somewhat different.
For that reason, and many others, I was excited to get my hands on the debut children's novel from author Chudney Ross, Lone Bean. Among other activities, Ross is the owner of Books and Cookies, a combination children's bookstore and bakery in Santa Monica (this place is going on our must-visit list for sure!). And I suspect that her years as a bookseller and educator are what makes Lone Bean such a well-rounded portrait of a young girl's experiences. Bean is not only a relatable and realistic kiddo, she's also a lot of fun, very like Ramona and so many other classic characters.
The book opens as Bean Gibson begins third grade, which she's quite looking forward to. But almost right away, things go awry. First her best friend Carla has found someone new to hang out with over the summer. Then Bean tangles with the class bully, Terrible Tanisha. Then she has to be partners with Stanley, and everyone in the class thinks she likes him. And then her dad announces that Bean has to start music lessons, on the piano of all things! It seems nothing will ever go right in third grade.
Throughout the story, Bean navigates her way through social mishaps and conflicts with her parents and siblings, all the while finding her place in the new order of things. Bean's outlook on life is one that many kids will relate to; Ross gives us a heroine who is by no means perfect, but who makes mistakes and learns from them (eventually). Bean has a great support system in place, and it's nice to see a story where the main character tests her limits but never doubts her family's love for her. Eventually all the drama sorts itself out -- not exactly how Bean would have liked it to, but in a way that's great nonetheless. Kind of like real life, I'd say.
Next time you're thinking about handing your kiddo a classic like Ramona Quimby, Age 8, reach a little further and consider a book like Lone Bean instead. With characters who are familiar and yet unique, this is a novel worth reading, and I for one am hoping for a sequel -- looking forward to more from this spirited girl and her creator!
Lone Bean by Chudney Ross, published by Amistad Books
Sample: "I'm the youngest of three girls and we're all named after flowers. Mom said she wanted her own bouquet, but I think she got a thorn bush with my sisters because they are m-e-a-n MEAN! I have a flower name too, of course, but it is long and hard to spell and terrible. I'll never tell anyone what it is. Mom and Dad sometimes call me by my real name when I'm in big trouble, but otherwise I'm just called Bean."