Beverly Cleary captured the experiences of childhood and created a world of fiction that children have enjoyed for decades. Beloved characters such as Ramona Quimby, Ralph S. Mouse and Henry Huggins have become an integral part of children’s literature.
Beverly Cleary’s Early Days
Beverly Cleary was born Beverly Bunn on April 12, 1916, and spent her early years on a farm in Yamhill, Oregon. The town had no library until her mother arranged to have books sent from the state library and acted as librarian.
Cleary’s family moved to Portland, Oregon, around the time Beverly was ready to start school. She spent her first few years of schooling as a struggling reader, but once she was able to overcome her difficulty, she became an avid reader and grew up to be a librarian in Yakima, Washington.
As a librarian, Cleary met children who were either struggling with reading (like she had) or who were bored with the types of books available to them. She was inspired to begin writing books about kids, for kids.
Sources in this Story
- Beverly Cleary: About Beverly Cleary
- NPR: Beverly Cleary, Getting the Best Out of Her ‘Pest’
- Library of Congress: Living Legend: Beverly Cleary
- The Oregon Encyclopedia: Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden
- Beverly Cleary School
- New York Times: Beverly Cleary Turns 100
Cleary’s Notable Accomplishments
Cleary’s first book, “Henry Huggins,” was published in 1950 and documented the lives of the children living on Klickitat Street in Portland, Oregon, near the very same neighborhood where Cleary grew up. From the “Henry Huggins” series came new characters and new books about life on Klickitat, perhaps the most famous being the series based on Ramona Quimby, a neighbor of Henry Huggins.
The Ralph S. Mouse series was written because her own son was “disillusioned with school and reading.” Cleary was inspired by watching him play with a toy motorcycle and the sight of a small mouse who was “just the right size to ride that [toy] motorcycle.”
Cleary has received many awards for her body of work, including the American Library Association’s 1975 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award and the Library of Congress’ Living Legend Award. Her book “Dear Mr. Henshaw” received the 1984 Newbery Medal, and “Ramona and Her Father” and “Ramona Quimby, Age 8” were both named Newbery Honor Books.
The Woman and Her Work
- “A Girl from Yamhill”
- “My Own Two Feet: A Memoir”
- “Ramona the Pest”
- “The Mouse and the Motorcycle”
- “Henry Huggins”
- “Dear Mr. Henshaw”
The Rest of the Story
During the more than 30 years of her career, Cleary answered her fan mail personally. Often she would hear that a child had learned to love reading through one of her stories, and it was through mail from children with parents who were divorced that she was inspired to write the book “Dear Mr. Henshaw.”
Cleary has written two books about her own life: “A Girl From Yamhill” documents her early years, and “On My Own Two Feet” recalls her early adulthood leading up to the publishing of “Henry Huggins.”
In Portland, Oregon where many of her stories took place, Cleary’s works are quite well loved. The Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden depicts some of her most famous characters and was installed just blocks away from Klickitat Street, where the characters were said to have lived. A neighborhood school was also named after Cleary.
When asked how she has been able to keep writing stories that connect with children over so many decades, Cleary responded, “Deep down inside children are all the same, they want two loving parents and…a neighborhood they can play in, they want teachers that they can like. I don’t think children themselves have changed that much, it’s the world that has changed.”
This article was originally written by Haley A. Lovett; it was updated March 8, 2017.