“In third grade, I wanted to be a mouse.
Not a timid mouse. Not a quiet mouse. And certainly not Mickey Mouse.
No, I wanted to be Ralph, the mouse with the motorcycle.
In the many appreciations of Beverly Cleary that have been posted since her death at age 104 last Thursday, there has been plenty of rightful attention paid to Ramona, her most famous character. Though I have nothing but respect for Ramona, my heart has always belonged to Ralph. Ms. Cleary always said she wrote “The Mouse and the Motorcycle” for her son. In doing this, she didn’t welcome just one boy into the world of her books; she welcomed generations of boys like me.
Third grade was a crucial time for me as a reader. I felt I was coming to a fork in the library aisles, where one path led to the Hardy Boys doing hardy boy things while Nancy Drew did mysteriously girl-coded things down the other. Even though Princess Leia was my favorite character to be when I played “Star Wars” with my friends (unusual, but not that unusual) and Marion Ravenwood was my favorite when we played “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (highly unusual, to the point of oddness), I still felt I needed to head for the mountainous boy-book terrain. I was supposed to read for action, not depth. Feelings were not a mystery the Hardy Boys ever needed to solve.
Then I found Ralph.
We meet him in Room 215 of the Mountain View Inn, where a boy named Keith has just arrived. (Keith’s parents are in an adjoining room.) As soon as Keith settles in, he pokes around the room, coming very close to discovering the knothole behind which Ralph and his mouse family live. Then Keith does exactly what I would have done, had I been the one checking into Room 215: He takes out his toy cars, plays with them, and then lines them up in a neat row before he goes to sleep.” . . .