The gleam in her eyes reveals her spunk as she stares up at me. She always had more courage than I did – completely unafraid to speak her mind to grown-ups, to ask questions, and to actually get answers. I admired her and loved having her as a companion because she understood the troubles I faced – getting sick at school, being teased, and making all kinds of mistakes. Knowing her and being by her side on all of her misadventures gave me confidence and comfort.
This assurance is the feeling I remember best as I look over the faded and worn book cover. The bold blue lettering reads: Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Even as I read the title, I smile to myself, remembering how Ramona would write her name in cursive, but always print the "Q" because she hated how otherwise it just looked like a big curly number two. These little quirks and eccentricities were what made Ramona so fun to spend time with and so easy to love.
Ramona Quimby is just one of the many beloved characters created by Beverly Cleary, whose writing career has spanned nearly fifty years and produced more than forty books. On Sunday, April 12, Cleary will celebrate her 104th birthday and boy, does she have a lot to celebrate! In 1975, Cleary won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, which has since been renamed the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, that "honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children." Cleary has won multiple notable lifetime achievement awards, and many of her works have been recognized for their excellence. Dear Mr. Henshaw won the Newbery Medal in 1984, and both Ramona and Her Father and Ramona Quimby, Age 8 received Newbery Honors – to name just a few recognitions.
Beverly Cleary began her career as a children’s librarian in Yakima, Washington. Remembering her own struggles as a young reader, Cleary passionately believed that children deserved books that were of high literary quality and were written just for them. She found the characters of children’s books to not be relatable to her young patrons, and so, she was inspired to write her first book Henry Huggins in 1950. Ever since, Beverly Cleary has been a trailblazer for children’s authors, inspiring and paving the way for many, including Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, and two-time Newbery medalist Kate DiCamillo.
If you want to learn more about the life and career of this living legend, Cleary has written and published two memoirs: A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet. Also, be sure to check out both Overdrive and Hoopla for more of Cleary’s brilliant works for children.
Did you read Beverly Cleary’s books when you were young? Maybe it’s time to take a trip down memory lane. Which authors and books did you enjoy most as a child? How did they shape and inspire you? Please share in the comments below! If you are home with your children, now is a wonderful opportunity to get cozy and to introduce a new generation to your own childhood favorites, especially to the humorous antics of Henry Huggins, Ramona Quimby, and all of Cleary’s beloved characters.
There is no doubt that Beverly Cleary has reached millions of young readers, forming them into lifelong lovers of reading and learning. Cleary has inspired many to grow up to become teachers, librarians, and writers themselves. Most importantly, though, she has helped children to not feel so alone, that it’s OK to make mistakes, to laugh it off, and to keep trying. Happy birthday, Beverly Cleary! Thank you for sharing your imagination with the world.