Here’s a big Happy 100th Birthday to Beverly Cleary, beloved author of dozens of children’s books and two memoirs.
As someone who grew up in the 1950s, I am part of the baby-boomer generation, but that also makes me a member of the Beverly Cleary generation. Her stories of Henry Huggins, Beezus and Ramona, and Ellen Tebbits are the stories I grew up on.
By the ‘60s I had grown beyond reading Beverly Cleary, so I never read The Mouse and the Motorcycle, or her later Ramona books, or her Newbery Medal-winning Dear Mr. Henshaw, until I became a children’s librarian (like Beverly Cleary) myself.
I met Beverly Cleary once, at a library conference when I was living in Bakersfield in the early 1970s. I asked her to sign my favorite title, Beezus and Ramona.
And why was Beezus and Ramona my favorite book by her? Because it was a story about an older sister with a pesky younger sister, just like me. I can still remember the surprise I felt when at the end of the book Beezus sees her mother and her favorite Aunt Beatrice together, and realizes that sisters can grow up to be friends, even if that younger sister is annoying and exasperating now.
My sister was never as annoying as Ramona. She didn’t ride her tricycle around the living room, or scribble in her favorite library book so that it could be paid for and she could keep it, or put her doll Bendix in the oven, like Ramona. But I still knew how Beezus felt, and Beverly Cleary allowed me to look into a future where my sister could be my friend.
Beverly Cleary excelled at knowing and showing how children felt, and how overwhelming those feelings can be. How it feels to be left out, misunderstood, apprehensive, or overcome with anger, as well as excited, proud, or cheerful. We all know how Ramona feels when she is told, her first day at school, to “Stay here for the present” and no present is forthcoming.
I recently reread three early titles: Ellen Tebbits, Henry and Beezus, and Ramona the Brave. Some things -- prices, brands, clothing-- have changed. No one buys horsemeat for their dog anymore. But the feelings never change. Do yourself a favor; go to the library (it’s National Library Week!) and check out a Beverly Cleary book. A couple hours later you will have read a great book.
Nancy Leek is a librarian and children's author. Check out her blog about Northern California history at goldfields.