Sunday, June 5, 2016

Book Review: Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary (1951)

Ellen Tebbits is so utterly embarrassed by the fact that her mother makes her wear woolen underwear that when she changes her clothes before dance class she hides in the closet to avoid being teased. When she learns that another girl, Austine, must also wear the same kind of underwear, however, the two bond immediately over their secret shame and become the best of friends. As happens to many best friendships, however, theirs is tested when Ellen hurts Austine's feelings and struggles to find a way to apologize.

Though so much of what happens in this book would not happen today, the characters themselves have many of the same fears, concerns, and feelings as contemporary children. Though girls are unlikely to wear woolen underwear to school, they can all relate to the way it feels to be embarrassed by a family rule others don't have to follow. While today's teachers don't ask kids to clap erasers at recess, kids still understand what it's like to want to please a teacher and feel as though they fall short in some way. Above all, kids of every generation understand what it's like to be lonely, to be teased, to find a new friend, to hurt a friend's feelings, and to make amends and start anew.

More than any other author, Beverly Cleary understands childhood. Though her books reference customs, styles, and events of the time in which they were written, her descriptions of the thoughts and feelings of kids transcend time. I am pleased that a book like Ellen Tebbits remains in print and is still widely available on library shelves.  Now that I have been reminded once again of the brilliance of Beverly Cleary, I want to go back and read the other titles of hers that I have missed, including the companion novel to this book, Otis Spofford. 

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