Allison's Book Bag

Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary

Posted on: September 26, 2014

Beverly Cleary is well-known for writing humorous and touching realistic chapter books. Her realistic and sympathetic characters have been indelibly written on many hearts. One of my favorite character creations of hers is Ellen Tebbits, an eight-year-old girl whose life is brightened by her friendship with newcomer Austine. The book Ellen Tebbits forever shaped my life.

Partly because of Ellen, during much of my childhood, I wanted a best friend. I identified with Ellen, who does not have any brothers or sisters. When the girl next door moves away, Ellen also ends up without any close friends. Sure, Ellen has lots of school friends, but she doesn’t have anyone who lives in the same neighborhood who can come over to play after school and on the weekends. Now at first, Ellen thinks perhaps she does not even want a best friend. After all, best friends share secrets. And Ellen has one she wants to keep. Once Ellen discovers that she and Austine share the same secret, however, Ellen is glad to have a best friend. Immediately, the girls begin to hang out together at one another’s homes, playing dress up and baking cookies. And, in my childhood days, I coveted their friendship. Thankfully, over the years, best friends have come along with whom I was able to confide my deepest desires and fears. Those friends I also shared memorable moments with, the same as Ellen and Austine who together share an adventure of trying to bring a mammoth old beet to school to impress a teacher, riding on horses for the first time without any adult supervision, and being in an almost disastrous school play together.

The back jacket flap lists various episodes which happen to the girls and suggests readers will debate which is the funniest. I don’t have an answer to that debate but, for me, the chapter which I’ll remember forever is the one which describes how the two girls decide to dress up as twins. When I met my best friend of eighth grade, a missionary’s kid on furlough, I echoed Ellen’s idea to her about being twins. I don’t remember anymore what, if anything, was the result of that inspiration. I do know though that in hindsight I’ve found it ironic that I should wish for my best friend and I to dress up as twins, given how the situation transpired for Ellen and Austine.  The moms of the two girls possess very different sewing abilities, which means Ellen and Austine end up with totally different looking dresses. The most trying part is that Ellen’s dress has a sash; Austine’s dress does not. Hence, the so-called matching dresses become anything but fun to wear, and even causes a bitter quarrel. This negative outcome never seemed to faze me. Instead I just kept thinking about how much the girls enjoyed picking out a dress pattern and then trying to match how they looked, right down to how they wore their hair.

Ellen Tebbits has personal meaning to me. If I were to analyze it as a critic, however, the feature which I would most emphasize is how much Cleary knew children. Clearly worked as a librarian, meaning she encountered young people on a daily basis. This shines through in all of her books, with Ellen Tibbets being no exception. When Ellen and Austine first meet, they almost don’t become friends. Austine understandably misses her home state of California so much that she talks non-stop about it. Ellen just as understandably acts irritated with Austine for her one-track mind and even snaps, “If you think California is so wonderful, why don’t you go back there?” Even before the end of dance class, Ellen begins to have a guilty conscience. After all, she knows what it feels like to be lonely. She begins to wonder if Austine sometimes sits on her front porch and wishes for someone to play with. Or if Austine hopes in school that maybe someone will invite her over to play. And so Ellen makes up her mind to apologize.  There are countless other incidents, wherein the girls show themselves both to be vulnerable to moods but also nice and likable characters.

Beverly Cleary’s books are part of personal collections of countless readers. Which Beverly Cleary book is your favorite? And why?

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

2 Responses to "Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary"

Selections from the Ramona books are in classroom literature anthologies here. This means, every year I still encounter students who love and know everything about Ramona. 🙂

Ellen Tebbits is also a favourite of mine among Beverly Cleary’s character creations.

“Which Beverly Cleary book is your favorite? And why?” I think that I read Ellen Tebbits, Otis Spofford, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and Ramona the Pest (and possibly sequels) to my grade five class. My favourite was orobably Ramona the Pest because of its shortness, its having sequels, and its being especially enjoyed by the classes that I read it to.

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