What do Judy Blume, Kate DiCamillo, Kevin Henkes, and Renée Watson have in common? They were all inspired by the late Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby series, inspired to write about everyday kids having everyday problems in their everyday lives. They all write about their characters unabashedly, warts and all. But they also write with tender warmth and honesty. Just like Beverly Cleary.
And that is why you really want to meet Ryan Hart, the little girl at the heart of Ways to Make Sunshine. Ryan is full of spit and fire, and a drive to do right by everyone. Yet somehow in moving to a new neighborhood, and worrying about her father’s new job, and fretting about the fourth-grade talent show, well, little things can go awry.
What makes Ryan so refreshing is that she speaks her mind.
On her name:
“My name is Ryan and Ryan means ‘king’ and that means I am a leader”
When her parents try to take her mind of off moving:
“Here’s the thing about ice cream. No matter how sweet it is, no matter if it’s given to you even when you aren’t supposed to have it, no matter if you’re told you can come back for seconds – it doesn’t take away the sadness.”
When her Mom tries to economize:
“…I think Ben & Jerry could teach whoever Kroger is a few things.”
Ryan does receive lots of advice from the folks in her life, but it is her wise grandmother’s advice that seems to have the most influence. Grandma’s words on Ryan’s beauty:
“Baby girl, you are beautiful…Your kindness makes you beautiful and the way you’re always willing to offer help makes you beautiful…The only thing that will determine [your beauty] is how you treat others. If you are mean to people, if you act ugly toward them, that’s what takes your beauty away.”
Grandma’s advice is necessary and challenging for Ryan and for all readers. Ryan sincerely wants to spread sunshine, and she does. To her infuriating brother, to her parents, to her new friends. (Sound like any characters you know and love?)
It’s also advice that Ryan will need to be mindful of, even after the ups and downs in Ways to Make Sunshine are over. Fortunately, Renée Watson has continued the series so readers can enjoy more time with Ryan.
Author Renée Watson is the author of strong Middle School and YA titles that sensitively but honestly probe the lives of African-American girls in her home town of Portland, Oregon. How lucky we are that she has now crafted a warm and engaging series aimed right at the heart of an elementary school audience.
We invite you to share Ryan Hart with your school and families – her attitude, her warmth and generosity, her mistakes, her ups and downs, her lessons, her resolutions. Every child should experience (or re-experience) authentic characters like Ramona Quimby. And now we’ll all be saying that about Ryan Hart.