Children's Book Author Beverly Cleary Changes Lives
Who she is: Internationally beloved children’s book author
What she does: Spent five decades writing some of the most-read books by kids. Slow to read as a child herself, the girl who was born on a small farm finally fell in love with books after her mother made a deal with Oregon’s library system to establish a book hub in their town. Cleary went on to become a librarian before embarking on an illustrious writing career.
Why she does it: “If l could say anything to the millions of children who have read my books, what would it be? I would say, Don’t stop now. Go ahead! Be readers all of your lives. And don’t forget, librarians and teachers can help you find the right books to read.”
By Hope Katz Gibbs
“RAMONA QUIMBY WAS nine years old. She had brown hair, brown eyes, and no cavities,” writes beloved children’s book author Beverly Cleary in the first chapter of her bestseller, Ramona’s World. It chronicles the day our heroine meets her new baby sister, Roberta.
This is one of more than three dozen books penned by Cleary in the more than five decades (her first book, Henry Huggins, was published in 1950; her last was Ramona’s World in 1999) that she has been drawing kids into the adventures of her characters. Klickitat Street, where several of them live, is based on her own childhood neighborhood.
Inspiring kids to love reading, especially struggling readers like herself as a child, has been a lifelong mission for the woman who grew up on a farm in Yamhill, Oregon—a town so small it had no library.
“Until I was in third grade, I thought of reading as something I just had to do in
school,” Cleary says. “In the fifth or sixth grade we had to write a story, and the teacher told me I should write children’s books when I grew up.”
Children everywhere are better for Cleary receiving such sage career advice.
Prior to her career as an author, Cleary worked as a librarian, which is how she first encountered children who had trouble finding books that captured their imaginations.
That’s when she decided to start writing books about kids young readers would recognize as being like themselves.
On April 12, 2010—the day Cleary turns 94—her love of books will be celebrated during National Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) Day, sponsored by, among others, the National Education Association, the Parent Teacher Association, HarperCollins Children’s Books and, of course, Ramona Quimby (www.dropeverythingandread.com).
Following is a Q&A that I conducted with the amazing Ms. Cleary on this auspicious occasion.
Hope Katz Gibbs: Of the dozens of books you have written, do you have a favorite?
Beverly Cleary: I don’t have a favorite title, but I have favorite characters, including Henry, Ramona, Ralph and all the rest of them. My least favorite books went straight into the wastebasket. If I don’t enjoy writing them, how can I expect anybody to enjoy reading them?
HKG: Which of your characters is most similar to you?
“BC:* People tell me that I was Ramona. I don’t agree. I was much more Ellen Tebbitts, which is really quite autobiographical. I was also quite a bit like the mouse who rode the motorcycle, not that I rode motorcycles, but, like Ralph, I hoped for adventure.
HKG: I understand that some of your characters are hitting the big screen this summer in a movie entitled Ramona and Beezus. Did you help write the script?
BC: I was consulted about the scripts and rejected a few of them, and I made
suggestions about the final script, but my involvement ended there. I am excited about the movie.
HKG: Do you still write? Is there anything you wish you had written about, but didn’t get to?
BC: I no longer write. I wish I had written about Ramona in 5th grade, but didn’t wish hard enough to actually do it.
HKG: What was your favorite book when you were a child?
BC: As a child, my favorite book was Dandelion Cottage, by Caroll Watson Rankin. Every time I brought it home from the library, my mother would say, “Not Dandelion Cottage again.” I’d also read any book of fairy tales. As an adult, I have no favorite titles, but I especially enjoy autobiography.
HKG: Where do you find inspiration and ideas for your stories?
BC: Any place. Every place. From memories, observations, newspapers, overheard conversations. I’m an unrepentant eavesdropper, especially in restaurants.
HKG: If you could tell anything to the millions of children who have enjoyed your books, what would it be?
BC: I think I would say, “Don’t stop now. Go ahead! Be readers all of your lives. And don’t forget, librarians and teachers can help you find the right books to read.”