April 12th is Beverly Cleary’s birthday, and we don’t know why that isn’t a national holiday. She was like the original R.L. Stine and J.K. Rowling combined, except nobody ever accused Beverly Cleary of being a witch or corrupting any kids. It probably helped that Cleary came from a different time–more specifically, having been born on this date in 1916. And we’re thrilled to still be talking about her in the present tense as Cleary turns 97 years old today. [photo via beverlycleary.com]
Cleary still emerged as a major Young Adult talent back in 1950–long before the term “young adult” had been put together by a marketing group. Her first book was Henry Huggins. She would already be one of the book industry’s most popular authors before earning a National Book Award for Ramona and her Mother in 1981. She earned a Newbery Award for Dear Mr. Henshaw in 1984, too. She’s written over forty books, many of which are based on beloved childhood characters such as Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggens–who would also end up being each other’s supporting characters in various Cleary classics. It’s like she invented the spin-off!
And it all started with Beverly Cleary working as a children’s librarian. As a young girl who grew up on a farm, Beverly enjoyed reading books. Even though the town they lived in didn’t have a library, her mother would arrange for a nearby library to send books to their home. When Cleary turned six, her family moved to Portland. When Beverly went to grade school, she was frustrated by the lack of good books she read. It wasn’t until a school librarian started introducing the young Beverly to books she was interested in and encouraged her to try to write her own books that she got the idea to become an author.
After Beverly grew up and graduated high school, she moved to California where she attended Chaffee College and earned an Associate of Arts degree. This landed her the position of a substitute librarian until she completed her English BA from the University of California in Berkley. She then continued on with her education by studying at the School of Librarianship at the University of Washington in Seattle. In 1939, she earned a degree in library science.
One of Beverly Cleary’s first goals as a writer was to write children’s books about characters kids could relate to. Henry Huggins would be a catalyst for her long successful writing career. She was later quoted as saying that Henry and the rest of the kids in her first book were inspired by the kids while she was working at the library–as well as the kids she grew up with.
Beezus and Ramona was the book to kick off the popular series about the little girl who capture America’s heart. In the book series, readers follow the fictional Ramona Quimby as she grows up and discovers the world around her. In the first book (which was published in 1955), Beezus finds herself more annoyed with her younger sister Ramona than ever before–and Beezus only stayed annoyed as the series continued with seven more books.
The last book was titled Ramona’s World and was published in 1999. In this book, Ramona realizes that having to be bumped from youngest to middle child isn’t easy. Her older sister Beezus is now in high school and is trying desperately to grow up. Her new baby sister Roberta is also taking attention away from her. Despite such changes at home, new opportunities happen and Ramona makes a few new friends. Meanwhile, Cleary was wrapping up her long career on the verge of a new century. It’s pretty exciting to know that she’s still around, and has seen yet another generation of young readers taking the Beverly Cleary library into the 21st century.
So buy your kids a Beverly Cleary book today. That should help ensure that your grandkids will carry Cleary on for a few more decades. And you’ll feel even better about Beverly Cleary when you check out this recent charming interview, where the author reveals that she’s still plenty sharp. Maybe we really should keep hoping for one more book…