MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
The other big movie this weekend has fans either dreading or delighting in the fact that their feisty, young heroine Ramona Quimby has gone Hollywood. The new Disney movie "Ramona and Beezus" comes out today. Newcomer Joey King is Ramona and Salena Gomez plays her big sister Beezus. Ramona first appeared in the 1950s as a minor character in Beverly Cleary's Henry Huggins books. Ramona was the pest, the well-intentioned trouble-maker. She was such a force of nature, in fact, that Beverly Cleary gave Ramona her own series, eight books in all. Here's NPR's Elizabeth Blair.
ELIZABETH BLAIR: When Cleary created the character Ramona, she thought of a little girl from her childhood who lived in a house behind hers in Portland, Oregon. One day Cleary saw the little girl on the sidewalk.
Ms. BEVERLY CLEARY (Author): She'd been sent to the neighborhood store for a pound of butter, which in those days, was in one piece, not in cubes. And she had opened the butter and was eating it.
BLAIR: Ramona Quimby would definitely do that. In fact, Ramona would do a lot worse. Just ask her fans, like 7-year-old Adia Keene from Washington, D.C.
Ms. ADIA KEENE (Ramona Quimby fan): Once she colored in the book on purpose so she wouldn't have to turn the book back in.
BLAIR: And six-and-a-half year-old Ella Biehle from San Anselmo, California.
MS. ELLA BIEHLE (Ramona Quimby fan): She made a crayon out of, like, burs, and her hair got stuck and she looked really funny.
BLAIR: And 12-year-old Erinn Blessinger who actually attended Beverly Cleary Elementary School in Portland.
Ms. ERINN BLESSINGER (Ramona Quimby fan): She blurts out a lot of stuff that she might want to take them back in.
(Soundbite of movie, "Ramona and Beezus")
Ms. JOEY KING (Actor): (as Ramona Quimby) I'm going to say a bad word.
Unidentified Man #1: You are?
Ms. KING: (as Ramona Quimby) Um-hum.
BLAIR: In the movie Joey King plays Ramona who's going to say the worst word she can think of.
(Soundbite of movie "Ramona and Beezus")
Ms. KING: (as Ramona Quimby) Guts. Guts, guts, guts.
BLAIR: The movie was directed by Elizabeth Allen, herself a big fan of Beverly Cleary. So Allen consulted with the 94-year-old author.
Ms. ELIZABETH ALLEN (Director, "Ramona and Beezus"): She's a tough cookie, and I sat down and I thought it was going to be this moment, you know, where we hug each other and talk about the properties. Instead, you know, she whipped out her notebook and she said so, what are the themes of Ramona?
(Soundbite of movie)
Unidentified Man #2: Ramona is a bright young student that's my girl but lacks focus, often day dreams, disputes the need to spell words correctly, and has very rude...
Ms. ALLEN: I said I feel like it's about a girl who thinks outside the lines, who's struggling to figure out how to conform a little bit without losing her personality. And Beverly felt strongly that it was actually just about a girl learning how to grow up.
Ms. CLEARY: She has an imagination, and some of her things just don't turn out the way she expected.
BLAIR: Those things often get Ramona in trouble, and then make her feel misunderstood.
Beverly Cleary says Allen has a way of getting into a child's head.
Ms. CLEARY: Well, I'm lucky, I have very clear memories of childhood.
BLAIR: And those memories aren't all mischievous fun. Some are pretty painful. One day Ramona's dad comes home from work looking especially beleaguered.
(Soundbite of movie, "Ramona and Beezus")
Ms. KING: (as Ramona Quimby): Did I do something wrong?
Unidentified Woman: No, not this time.
BLAIR: This time Mr. Quimby lost his job.
Ms. KING: (as Ramona Quimby): Downsize? What's that mean?
BLAIR: Beverly Cleary says her father lost his job when she was a little girl.
Ms. CLEARY: I was embarrassed. I didn't know how to talk to my father. I know he felt so terrible at that time that I just - I guess I felt equally terrible. And I think adults sometimes don't think about how children are feeling about the adult problems.
BLAIR: Maybe part of what has made Ramona Quimby popular generation after generation is that she's believable. Beverly Cleary says she gets hundreds of letters from children and some adults who say I am Ramona.
They've also been asking her for a Ramona movie for years. Now they've got one.
Disney's "Ramona and Beezus" comes out this weekend.
Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
KELLY: There's a photo gallery of what Ramona Quimby has looked like through the years at npr.org.
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