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Beloved Children’s Author Beverly Cleary Dies at 104

/ BY Kim Honey / March 29th, 2021

Beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary, who wrote contemporary books that didn’t talk down to the reader, has died at 104.

Cleary, a former children’s librarian, explained in a 1982 essay that the books she read as a child disappointed her. “I wanted to read funny stories about the sort of children I knew, and I decided that someday when I grew up I would write them.”

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When a boy at her library asked her where he could find books that reflected his middle-class, American life, she wondered the same thing, and so Henry Huggins was born. “His hair looked like a scrubbing brush and most of his grown-up front teeth were in,” Cleary wrote in 1950, introducing Henry’s dog, Ribsy, and a colourful cast of characters from Klickitat Street in Portland, Ore., including Ramona Quimby. Ramona was initially a minor character,  the annoying younger sibling of Henry’s friend Beatrice, but came into her own as a five-year-old force of nature in 1968’s Ramona the Pest.

“I wrote about the sort of boys I knew in my neighbourhood and then Ramona just appeared on her own and kept growing in each book,” she explained in a 2006 interview with National Public Radio.

Cleary drew on her own childhood in her work, once recalling how irritable her father was when he lost his job during the Great Depression, which inspired a scene in Ramona and Her Father (1977) where Mr. Quimby has been laid off.

Later, after she had twins, her son gave her the idea for Ralph S. Mouse. He was struggling with reading, so she asked him what he would like to read about. He said motorcycles, so “it crossed my mind that [a] mouse was just the right size to ride that motorcycle.”

And when she got fan mail from two different boys asking her to write about children with divorced parents, she penned Dear Mr. Henshaw, which won the 1984 Newbery Medal.

Among many other accolades, Cleary was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress in 2000, and her books have sold more than 85 million copies and been translated into 28 languages.

Her husband Clarence Cleary, whom she met at a dance at the University of California Berkeley, died in 2004. She is survived by her son, Malcolm, and daughter, Marianne.


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