Beverly Cleary, the hugely popular creator of Ramona and Henry Huggins, is plugged right into kids’ psyches. She knows what they worry about and what makes them laugh, and she can illuminate the smallest dramas of daily life with empathy, wit, and insight.
Muggie Maggie is a case in point. Maggie, a spirited third-grader, gets stuck in a little act of rebellion that escalates to stubborn defiance. Nervous about learning cursive writing, Maggie begins by dragging her heels — doodling while the rest of the class practices loops — and ends up digging them in. Her pride won’t let her back down, even though she wants to. (She’s rescued, finally, by an ingenious and tactful teacher.)
It’s Cleary’s genius to be able to convey this familiar, embarrassing childhood dilemma — which has been known to spill over into adulthood — with just the right blend of lightness and sympathy. Lively black-and-white pencil drawings add to the affectionate tone. Samples of printing and cursive writing (including Maggie’s misspelled signature, ”Muggie”) are sprinkled throughout the text — a helpful touch for all those third-graders who share Maggie’s wary attitude toward the challenge of longhand. B+