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Picks and Pans Main: Books

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My Ramona

As Ramona and Beezus hits the big screen, beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary talks about the inspiration behind her characters and how she stays a kid at heart at 94

Beverly Cleary can pinpoint the exact lightbulb moment for what would become one of the most successful careers in kids’ literature. While she was working as a librarian in Yakima, Wash., “a boy said to me, ‘Where are the books about kids like us?’ And that stuck in my head,” recalls the author, 94, who has sold 75 million books since her first, Henry Huggins, was published in 1950. But to conjure her most iconic character-rascally Ramona Quimby-Cleary drew upon her memory of sisters who lived near her childhood home in Portland. “The little one called the big one Beezus,” she says. “And the only time I saw the little one, she was walking home from the store eating a stick of butter.” That kind of spunk would become a hallmark of her characters. “I never reform children,” says the author, who insisted that the new film Ramona and Beezus remain true to her timeless tales (no slang words or trendy clothes). “I like children the way they are.” Today the grandmother of three maintains a quiet life near Carmel, Calif., and continues to receive piles of fan mail every year. Kids today “want a home with both parents living in it. They want friends to play with. Nice teachers,” she says. “The same things we wanted as children.”

Murder at Mansfield Park

by Lynn Shepherd |



The Jane Austen juggernaut has produced an array of zany mash-ups, including last year’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Now there’s a more upscale homage: Shepherd’s delightfully witty reimagining of Mansfield Park, with its country manor and simmering family tensions, as a classic whodunit. The plot is turned on its head as the dreary Fanny Price becomes a wicked gold-digger who delights in humiliating Mary Crawford, now the novel’s perceptive heroine. When Fanny’s body is found in a ditch, Mary emerges from the shadows to help solve the murder. Those who like their Austen straight-up may take umbrage at some of Shepherd’s conceits-Mary’s preparation of a corpse, for instance, would be right at home in CSI: Mansfield Park. But Shepherd is a passionate aficionado who pays scrupulous attention to historical detail, and her mystery shines a lively light on the classic.

What Is Left The Daughter

by Howard Norman |



Wyatt Hillyer was 17 when his parents, in love with the same woman, leaped to their deaths from separate bridges in Halifax one day in 1941. What their son makes of that crippling inheritance is the subject of this quietly spellbinding novel. Norman renders wartime Nova Scotia so vividly, the salty damp seems to seep into your bones, and though his tale is tragic, it’s the tenacity of hope-“Now and then, life can be improved upon,” as a local puts it-that lingers.