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Book Review: Little Miss Merit Badge: Memoir by Ronda Beaman

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In her newest book, Little Miss Merit Badge, a memoir, author Ronda Beaman offers a humorous account of her life on one level while, on another level, sharing the angst and pain of growing up in a dysfunctional family ruled by a verbally abusive father. This book’s greatest gift is the template it provides for looking at ourselves in a different way and the understanding that only we can decide who we aren’t and who we are.

Although Beaman’s recollections reflect the generally upbeat attitude she was seemingly blessed with since coming into the world, it is apparent from her story that she truly had a challenging childhood which will remain an influence throughout her life. By age six, Beaman acknowledges that she was suffering from “accomplishment addiction,” a state of mind many young children develop, especially girls, when they are deprived of parental nurturing of their fragile perception of their self-worth. As a child, given her situation, the author chose to remove herself from her mentally abusive home life, and seek accomplishment and recognition through the Girl Scouts. She could never have enough merit badges. While much has been written on the subject of accomplishment addiction, perhaps no one has done a better job of capturing the essence of the malady than Beaman.

Little Miss Merit Badge provides an intimate ramble with the author from her early childhood through her adult life up to the present time. I don’t think I am revealing too much by noting that Beaman does successfully navigate the troubled waters of her youth and continues, at a lesser and more balanced level, to pursue a life of accomplishment, but one tempered with the seemingly sincere desire to give back of herself to others. Among her numerous accomplishments, she became a university professor, was the first recipient of the National Education Association’s “Excellence in the Academy: Art and Teaching” award, and a highly regarded international speaker.

For me what makes this book so appealing is the author’s warm and engaging writing style. Her narrative delivery is very reminiscent of Jean Shepherd, raconteur, radio personality, and writer — best known to modern audiences as the co-writer of the script for the movie A Christmas Story, and the narrator (the voice of the grown-up Ralphie) of the film. Ronda was quite a storyteller herself and the book is full of her storied young life.

For example, recollecting her experiences with school bomb drills during the time of the space race between America and Russia, she recounts, “Once a week we were forced under our flimsy metal desks with the wood laminate writing surface, hands over our heads and eyes closed in case the ‘Ruskies drop a bomb.’ Even I know that being under a small wooden desk, staring at the scuff marks on the well-trod floor (that my nose is smushed against) while using my measly arm muscles to shield my head will barely save me from a spit wad, let alone an atom bomb.” Ronda has lots of stories.

Ronda Beaman’s Little Miss Merit Badge is a showcase for her mastery of the art of storytelling and a platform on which she shares her insights and learning about the importance of resilience and reliance on self in nurturing our own self-esteem and accomplishments. The book’s universal themes are relevant across generations — I intend to share this book with my own children and my tween and teen grandchildren. I highly recommend!

(Reviewed by Joseph Yurt for Reader Views)

About Susan Vio