Yesterday, April 11th 2016, marked the 100th birthday of a renowned and most beloved author, Beverly Cleary. What a milestone! Although she retired from writing in 1999, Beverly Cleary’s books still continue to draw kids into the magnificent world of reading. From the “Ramona Quimby” and “Henry Huggins” series to “Ralph S. Mouse”, Beverly Cleary has written more than 40 books, respectively.
Cleary’s books were the first chapter books I not only delightfully devoured, but recall reading through on my very own. Until I discovered Mrs. Cleary’s literary universe, the only chapter books I was experienced to were the ones my mother would read to my sisters and I during school nights at our kitchen table. When I first discovered Ramona Quimby, I was 8 years old and stumbled upon a ‘Ramona Quimby’ 4-book box set after receiving our monthly Scholastic Magazine one day in third grade. After begging my mother to allow me order the box set I couldn’t wait for it arrive. And when it did, I immediately dove in and found a friend and fellow younger sibling connection in Ramona Quimby. I read and re-read about the adventures of Ramona and her journey through 3rd grade as well as her life in a middle-class suburban family. Ramona may have been a third grader, but when I read about her coming home from school to a family stressed out about their financial situation like mine often was, I felt like I had gained a sister in a way. Romans was a kid, sure, but she saw the realities of life and Beverly Cleary never wrote those realities out or sugar coated them. She let them be as they were. And it poses the question that, maybe reading about Ramona’s third grade level, albeit still highly relevant anxieties, was the first outlet I had for dealing with my own undiagnosed anxiety at the time.
When I think of Ramona I tend to think about an instance that occurs in “Ramona Quimby, Age 8” when Ramona, previously told she is a nuisance by her teacher, feels sick in class, but she’s afraid of being exactly what her teacher deemed her to be. Instead she decided not to say anything, and then the inevitable occurs and Ramona vomits in the middle of class, for all to see. Although I thankfully, never had that experience in school, I do remember being afraid to raise my hand in class for almost anything, I remember the anxious feeling that I was an “annoying student”. Beverly Cleary didn’t just write embarrassing and sticky situations for Ramona and then leave her to experience them, shrug it off and go on with her life. She also wrote about the after effects of those situations, like Ramona lying in bed at night after throwing up in class that afternoon, replaying the events over and over in her mind. (Which I still do quite often, even if they’ve occurred TEN YEARS AGO) What I mean to say is, Beverly Cleary wrote about a lot of things kids experience in grade school and she wasn’t afraid of covering all the bases. Kids have embarrassing moments, but they don’t get over them or reach a resolution at the end of the day like a character would in a sitcom. They live through it and learn from it and as a young reader, you did too, just like Ramona.
Among those connections to Ramona as previously mentioned, another was how Ramona grew up with a big sister like I did, named Beezus, who wasn’t afraid to tell Ramona like it is. She let Ramona know when she was being annoying or bratty or funny, like many siblings do. (Looking back, I’m pretty grateful for this because it saved me from wearing a plethora of tacky outfits growing up) Ramona and I were so similar, that I almost felt like Beverly Cleary took a look at my life and wrote a book about it. Ramona wanted to be like her big sister Beezus and her friends, I had similar yearnings as well.
Beverly Cleary will forever be an inspiration to me and to anyone else whose childhood was defined and captured by her stories. *raises glass of pink champagne* Happy birthday, Mrs. Cleary. Here’s to you and to many, many more years of your beautiful presence and influence on behalf of me and all the Beverly Cleary readers both young and old, out there!
If you’re interested in learning more about Beverly Cleary, check out her website which includes information about her life, career, and books. While you’re at it, check out an interview on PBS.org titled “7 Things You Didn’t Know About Beverly Cleary” , that includes some interesting facts like how she struggled with reading as a child and how a young boy from Yakima, Washington inspired her to write one her most famous characters. *Another notable article is this one from the New York Times