by Mark Mancini)
Moving, relatable, and frequently hilarious, Beverly Cleary’s stories have been captivating readers of all ages for over 60 years. From Ramona Quimby to Socks the Cat, her characters and the tales they inhabit are still going strong all these decades later. Here’s what you might not know about one of the world’s favorite children’s authors.
1. SHE’S A FORMER LIBRARIAN.
After graduating in 1939 from the University of Washington with a Library Science degree, Cleary worked as a children’s librarian in Yakima.
2. SHE HELPED IMPROVE THE LEAVE IT TO BEAVER FRANCHISE.
By her own admission, it was “boring work”: Cleary once wrote a pair of original tie-in stories starring Wally and ‘The Beav’ which—according to several letters she received—many fans found much more enjoyable than the series’ film adaptation. (Her explanation? “I cut out dear old Dad’s philosophizing.”)
3. YOU CAN VISIT THE “BEVERLY CLEARY SCULPTURE GARDEN” IN PORTLAND, OR.
Many of Cleary’s best-known stories were partially set in Portland’s Grant Park (she grew up nearby) and, as a loving nod, the city unveiled statues of Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Ribsy the dog there in 1995.
4. SHE’S ALWAYS SYMPATHIZED WITH STRUGGLING READERS.
Getting put into the lowest reading circle in first grade almost made young Cleary resent books. Phonic lists were a drag and being force-fed Dick & Jane-style narratives was flat-out excruciating. “[We] wanted action. We wanted a story,” she lamented in her autobiography. It was an experience Cleary never forgot. Since then, she claims to have always kept children who might be undergoing similar trials in mind while writing.
5. SHE’D WRITE AND BAKE SIMULTANEOUSLY.
Many authors crank up their favorite tunes during scribing sessions, but Cleary had a different approach: “I used to bake bread while I wrote. I’d mix the dough up and sit down and start to write. After a while, the dough would rise and I’d punch it down and write some more. When the dough rose the second time, I’d put it in the oven and have the yeasty smell of bread as I typed.”
6. THERE’S AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL NAMED IN HER HONOR.
Beverly Cleary Elementary is an Oregon K-8 school that “provides academic excellence in a caring community.” Disappointingly, its athletic teams are known as “The Cougars” rather than "The Motorcycle Mice."
7. DESPITE HER PARENTS’ OBJECTIONS, CLEARY ELOPED WITH THE MAN SHE LOVED.
“Gerhart” is the pseudonym her memoirs give to the fellow Beverly’s folks actually tried setting her up with, though the pair shared virtually no chemistry. Her future husband—one Clarence Cleary—was a kind-hearted economics and history student she met in college. He was also Roman Catholic, which didn’t sit well with her Presbyterian parents. Undaunted, Beverly Atlee Bunn eloped and became Beverly Cleary in 1940. The couple would remain together until Clarence’s death in 2004.
8. HARPER COLLINS PUBLISHING RECOGNIZES HER BIRTHDAY—APRIL 12TH—AS “DROP EVERYTHING AND READ” (D.E.A.R.) DAY.
Check out the website here.
9. THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS DECLARED HER A “LIVING LEGEND.”
This award is exclusively granted to “artists, writers, activists, filmmakers, physicians, entertainers, sports figures and public servants who have made significant contributions to America’s diverse cultural, scientific, and social heritage.” Cleary received her title in 2000, joining the ranks of Maurice Sendak, Muhammad Ali, and Madeline Albright.
10. SHE HAS A VERY WISE WRITING MANTRA.
When she was still a little girl, Cleary’s mother, an ex-teacher, gave her this advice: “The best writing is simple writing. And try to write something funny. People enjoy reading anything that makes them laugh.” Another tip that stuck with her came from a college professor, who often said, “The proper subject of the novel is the universal human experience.”
11. SHE’S A CAT-LOVER
Cleary’s owned several pet cats over the years, one of whom used to resent having to compete with her typewriter for attention and would sit on the keys in protest.
12. WHEN ASKED “WHY DO YOU THINK THAT CHILDREN LOVE RAMONA QUIMBY SO MUCH?” SHE GAVE THIS WONDERFUL ANSWER:
“Because [Ramona] does not learn to be a better girl. I was so annoyed with the books in my childhood, because children always learned to be ‘better’ children and, in my experience, they didn’t. They just grew, and so I started Ramona… and she has never reformed. [She’s] really not a naughty child, in spite of the title Ramona the Pest. Her intentions are good, but she has a lot of imagination, and things sometimes don’t turn out the way she expected.”