Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) on his Always in the Middle website each week. Check it out for more great kidlit!
In honor of Beverly Cleary, who passed this year at the age of 104, I’ve chosen three of her works for this week’s MMGM. As a kid, I dearly loved Ramona, but my all-time favorite Cleary character has to be Ralph S. Mouse. There’s just something about that precocious little fella that gets me every time. Maybe I see a little of myself in him. Maybe I remember being a bit irresponsible and wanting so much to grow up. Maybe I just love the idea of a young mouse who trills with the speed of a tiny red motorcycle trimmed with shiny chrome and dual exhausts. I always have wished animals could talk.
The Mouse and the Motorcycle is a marvelously imaginative story delivered with just the right blend of adventure and fun. Ralph is a medium-sized mouse who lives in the Mountain View Inn. When a young boy named Keith checks into Ralph’s room, they find that mice and boys who share a love of motorcycles naturally speak the same language and become friends. Through a series of humorous, kid-pleasing adventures, Ralph proves to Keith that he’s growing up, and Keith, before departing, kindly leaves his toy motorcycle in Ralph’s possession.
But that’s only the beginning of Ralph’s story. In the second book of the trilogy, Runaway Ralph, Ralph decides he’s sick of scrounging for crumbs, and he’s had it with the scores of young siblings and cousins always begging for rides on his precious motorcycle. So he runs away from home. (This one will tickle every one of us who ever packed a suitcase!) He finally lands at Happy Acres Camp and meets Garf, an unhappy camper. Ralph’s friendship with Garf nets him much more than just the peanut butter and jelly sandwich he’s been craving. After run-ins with cats, dogs, cages and one alfalfa-hating hamster, he learns what’s what’s most important to him.
In Ralph S. Mouse, the final book in Cleary’s trilogy, Ralph takes to haunting the halls of Irwin J. Sneed Elementary School and befriends another young boy named Ryan. It takes a few close encounters with danger and some disagreements before Ralph and Ryan learn a hard lesson–and Ralph ends up with a new vehicle to drive!
While the first book is my favorite, I highly recommend them all three. Different boys, different situations, different adventures, each written by a master craftswoman with a keen understanding of how children think and a knowledge of what they love. They’re timeless. Even fifty-something years later, I’ve yet to meet the child Ralph didn’t delight.