• Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Meta

Tribute to Beverly Cleary

As I read a recent obituary for award-winning author Beverly Cleary, I wondered if the AP writer knew Henry Huggins and Otis Spofford and Ellen Tebbits and Beatrice (Beezus) Quimby and her little sister, Ramona?  Did the writer know they lived on Klickitat Street?  That children loved to read these names aloud? That we teachers could hand students any book written by Beverly Cleary and know it would entertain and encourage readers?

            Beverly Cleary’s first book, Henry Huggins was published in 1950 when she was in her early 30’s and introduced Henry’s neighbors, Otis, Ellen, Beezus, and Ramona.  They were kids who played in each other’s backyards and went to school together.  Cleary worked as a librarian when a little boy asked, “Where’s the books about kids like us?”  There were books about kids who had nannies and servants and were well-behaved and talked proper, but none about kids who did chores and got dirty and said things to each other that they’d never say to adults.  So, Cleary wrote about adventures of normal kids who got mad and did silly things that made readers laugh out loud.

            Fifty-five books by Cleary have been published, some in twenty-nine languages, and over 85 million of her books have been sold.  In 2009, her series of books about Ramona were made into a movie. Her first books were aimed at young readers, but Cleary also wrote books for middle grade students, teenagers, and her memoirs.  Her books received many awards, including the prestigious Newberry Medal Award, the top children’s literature award.  The awards she liked best were state awards that were based on votes by children.

            Cleary remained humble and knew her readers well.  For thirty years she answered her fan mail herself, and when she received letters from children whose parents were divorced she wrote a book for them.  “Dear Mr. Henshaw” is a series of letters between a sixth-grade boy and his favorite author, and that boy connects with every reader who has ever been lonely.

            My favorite Cleary books are about Ralph S. (Smart) Mouse, and I just learned that she created Ralph to hook her own son on reading.  I remember struggling young readers who successfully read about a curious mouse that learned to ride a red toy motorcycle and became best friends with the owner of the motorcycle, Keith.  After I’d read aloud The Mouse and the Motorcycle to students, many wanted to know about Ralph’s other adventures in the sequels.

            Cleary’s books have stood the test of time.  As I read about Ralph S. Mouse to a young Grand, he rolled a red car across the living room rug and when Ralph’s motorcycle flipped in the air so did my Grand’s red car.  “Can a mouse really talk?” my Grand asked.  Only to children and only Ralph.  “What if all animals could talk?’              That’s the magic of books.  The what ifs and the connections between the characters, the listener, and the reader.  I’m thankful Mrs. Cleary created such magic.