Runaway Ralph by Beverly Cleary

Runaway Ralph by Beverly ClearyRalph’s second adventure is both a better story and a more moralistic one. Your enjoyment may vary, depending on your tolerance for such things. (Though it’s probably safe to say that if you are reading these books you’re probably not old enough to notice the moralizing, or you are reading them somebody for whom that description is accurate.)

The target audience of these books remains young boys and the story starts to show it’s age a little as all the girls and boys have very traditional girl and boy things to do. Only young boys who know how to make a motorcycle go by making motor noises can speak to a mouse. Girls never seem to care for motorcycles.

I understand that this is an artifact of the times but it strikes a nerve with me. I have two daughters. We take them to MacDonald’s only on very rare occasions. The toys for girls are atrocious. They’re almost always inactive, non-pretend play types of toys — headbands, rolls of stickers. While the boys get robots, cars and rocket ships. We always just ask for boys toys for the girls.

Beverly Cleary writes in a world where it is assumed that girls want to play with watches and jewelry and make crafts while boys want to run and play with motorcycles. I want to know about the boy who wants to make artwork out of beans and the girl who talks to Ralph because she loves motorcycles and speed and the feel of the wind in her face.

I digress.

The book serves it’s purpose. It provides a grand adventure for a small mouse. My son would literally dance on his toes and chew his fingernails during some of the more intense scenes when he thought the cat might get our intrepid hero.

That said, as an adult I felt many of the situations contrived to teach a lesson about a specific message. Ralph learns the value of his family, of not running away, of staying close to home. In the end it felt like a message of passiveness that didn’t quite sit right with me. I’m a natural homebody. I almost always prefer to spend my leisure time at home. When I read I want to hear about heroes who are not like me, who are bold and courageous and dive right in and get things done. Ralph tries to dive in and get things done and learns his lesson and goes back home, determined to stay there. It kind of felt like a letdown.

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