This Day In Literary History
On April 12th, 1916, the legendary American children's book writer Beverly Cleary was born. She was born Beverly Atlee Bunn in McMinnville, Oregon. Her parents were farmers. She had no brothers or sisters. When she was six years old, her parents gave up farming and moved to Portland, Oregon.
As a little girl, Beverly loved books and reading, but when she entered first grade in Portland, she hated both her nasty teacher and the dreadful primers she was required to read in class.
After spending the first six years of her life on a farm, city living took a toll on her health, which also affected her reading skills and classwork.
In the second grade, Beverly's new teacher and the school librarian, both of whom she loved, helped her get her schoolwork up to par and rekindled her love of reading. The librarian encouraged her love of learning and natural curiosity, helping her to find good books on subjects that interested her.
At the age of eighteen, Beverly began her college education at Chaffey College in Ontario, California. She would later attend the University of California at Berkley and the University of Washington in Seattle, earning degrees in English and library science. While studying at Chaffey, she worked as a substitute librarian.
It wasn't easy paying for a college education during the Great Depression; while studying at the University of Washington, she worked through the university's cooperative education program. While doing so, she met her future husband, Clarence Cleary.
They had to elope because Clarence's Presbyterian parents were fiercely opposed to their son marrying a Catholic girl. They married anyway, and she bore him a twin son and daughter, Malcolm and Marrienne. Clarence's parents would always disapprove of his marriage to Beverly.
After graduating from the University of Washington, Beverly Cleary became a full time librarian in Yakima, Washington. Her favorite part of the job was interacting with the many children who came to borrow books.
The children often complained that there were few books written about modern children like them. Knowing that many children's books at that time were either old-fashioned, dated, or unrealistic, Beverly sympathized with the kids. She decided to try writing her own children's books.
Beverly Cleary's first children's book, Henry Huggins, was published in 1950. The novella introduced the protagonist, Henry Huggins, and his friends, who live on Klickitat Street in Portland, Oregon.
In his first book, Henry meets and adopts a skinny stray dog whom he calls Ribsy. Boy and dog become the best of friends and get involved in adventures and mischief.
Henry Huggins became a huge hit with children, and critics loved the book as well, calling Henry a "modern Tom Sawyer." Beverly Cleary would write a series of Henry Huggins books, which would introduce other popular characters.
In the second book, Henry and Beezus, we get to know Henry's best friend, Beatrice "Beezus" Quimby. She hates her nickname, Beezus, which was given to her by her little sister, who as a toddler was unable to say Beatrice.
Beezus' spunky, impish little sister Ramona, originally a minor character in the Henry Huggins series, would go on to become Beverly Cleary's most popular character and the star of her own series of books.
The first book, Beezus and Ramona, was published in 1955. In this classic book, the precocious, irrepressible 4-year-old Ramona Quimby displays her talent for mischief as she annoys her sister, throws a party for her friends without her mother's permission, and ruins two birthday cakes.
Other memorable Ramona books include Ramona the Pest (1968), Ramona the Brave (1975), Ramona and Her Father (1977), Ramona and Her Mother (1979), Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (1981), and Ramona Forever (1984).
Fifteen years later, in 1999, Beverly Cleary came out of retirement at the age of 83 and published her last entry in the series, Ramona's World. It would also be her last published book to date.
Ramona's World finds the now preteen Ramona awaiting her tenth birthday. Her older sister Beezus, now 15, has started high school and is becoming a mature young woman, which irks Ramona. Meanwhile, Ramona finds herself playing a more active role in looking after her baby sister, Roberta.
As the novella progresses, Ramona deals with her own increasing maturity, as her longtime feud with her nemesis, the snobbish Susan, comes to an end, and her relationship with her old pal Danny, whom she famously nicknamed Yard Ape, may be off to a new beginning, as they have an obvious crush on each other.
In 1988, the Ramona books were adapted as a ten-episode TV series for Canadian public television. The brief yet memorable series featured an outstanding performance by a then unknown child actress named Sarah Polley as Ramona. The series would be picked up by American public television and released on video.
Over twenty years later, in July of 2010, Disney's Walden Media division released Ramona and Beezus, a feature film adaptation of Beezus and Ramona, but it wasn't exactly a straightforward adaptation of that book. It included plot elements from all the Ramona books.
In addition to her series novels, Beverly Cleary has written many fine standalone children's novels, including Mitch and Amy (1967), Socks (1973), and Dear Mr. Henshaw (1983).
Mitch and Amy, inspired by the author's own twin children, told the story of 10-year-old twin brother and sister Mitch and Amy Huff. The Huff twins are polar opposites and bicker endlessly, each wishing to be an only child. But deep down, they really love each other.
Socks, part comedy and part drama, is the endearing tale of a spunky cat who is adopted by a young married couple. Then his loving, doting humans have a baby, and his whole world turns upside down. Socks doesn't like playing second fiddle to the annoying infant.
The Newbery Award winning Dear Mr. Henshaw told the heart wrenching story of second grader Leigh Botts, who struggles to deal with his parents' divorce, his troubled relationship with his father, his loneliness, and the mysterious thief at school who keeps stealing his lunch.
As part of a class assignment, Leigh writes a letter to his favorite author, Boyd Henshaw. He and the writer become pen pals and close friends. Henshaw encourages Leigh to keep a diary of his thoughts and feelings. The narrative switches from letters to diary entries as Leigh chronicles his life.
Dear Mr. Henshaw was followed by a sequel, Strider (1991), in which Leigh and his friend Barry find a stray dog on the beach whom they name Strider. They decide to adopt Strider and share custody of him the way that most divorced couples share custody of their children.
Beverly Cleary is still with us at 102 and continues to attract new generations of fans and inspire new generations of children's book writers.
Quote Of The Day
“As a child, I very much objected to books that tried to teach me something. I just wanted to read for pleasure, and I did. But if a book tried to teach me, I returned it to the library.” - Beverly Cleary
Today's video features an interview with Beverly Cleary. Enjoy!