In celebration of her 100th birthday on April 12, 2016, I want to join my voice in thanking Beverly Cleary for some of the most wonderful, heartfelt, and realistic books for children and preteens ever written.
Beverly Cleary has been hugely successful in her long career, with more than 91 million copies of her books sold worldwide. Her first book, Henry Huggins, was published by Atlantic Monthly Press in 1950, and her most recent was Ramona's World, published by Harcourt Brace & Company in 1999. Henry and Ramona were perhaps Cleary's most beloved characters, although Ribsy, Beezus, and Ralph S. Mouse give them a run for their money.
Born Beverly Atlee Bunn in McMinnville, OR on April 12, 1916, Cleary was an only child and lived on a farm. In 1939, she graduated from the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Washington and accepted a year-long position as a children's librarian in Yakima, Washington. She married Clarence Cleary in 1940. They settled in Carmel, CA.
In 1981, Cleary won the National Book Award for Ramona and Her Mother. In 1984, she was awarded the Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw. Cleary has received the National Medal of Arts for her lifetime contributions to American literature, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from the Association for Library Service to Children, as well as recognition as a Library of Congress Living Legend
I read Henry and Ribsy first, finding the vein of Beverly Cleary books in my neighborhood library when I was around age 7 or 8. My attention was captured by the down-to-earth humor and drama, the excitements and difficulties of real life.
Cleary is an immensely satisifying writer, with deep but easily understandable psychological motivations, clarity of vision, and a willingness to approach true sadness and embarassment as much as she does success and happy humor. Whatever the problems the characters suffer, there's a powerful streak of kindness and empathy in their portrayals.
As a children's writer myself, her narrative potency and naturalistic ease has had a huge influence on my own work. I hope one day to write a book that comes close to embodying all the lovely humanistic warmth in her stories about the familiar triumphs and travails of childhood.
Happy 100th birthday, Beverly Cleary!
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