Beverly Cleary, who turns 100 this week, grew up in a small Oregon town with no library. She struggled, early on, with reading. That didn’t stop her from developing a love of books so strong that she became a librarian, the job that ultimately led her to become one of America’s most beloved children’s authors.
“Where are the books about kids like us?” a boy asked her while she was a librarian. Cleary wrote them. From Henry Huggins to Ralph S. Mouse to Ramona Quimby, her characters feel as timeless as when she first created them decades ago. “I don’t really think of my stories as taking place in any particular time,” she says. “However, they do take place in a real neighborhood.” That would be the area of Klickitat Street in Portland, Oregon, where she grew up.
April 12 has long marked not just Cleary’s birth date but Drop Everything and Read Day, a nod to the D.E.A.R. program Cleary first mentioned in the 1981 book Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Since then, schools and libraries have used April as a month to promote books and the pastime of reading. Here are some choice selections from Cleary’s 35-plus books and life of writing.
From 'Ramona the Pest'
Ramona could not understand why grown-ups always talked about how quickly children grew up. Ramona thought growing up was the slowest thing there was, slower even than waiting for Christmas to come. She had been waiting years just to get to kindergarten, and the last half hour was the slowest part of all.
Cleary on Ramona being a beloved pest
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.
From 'The Mouse and the Motorcycle'
Ralph really felt sorry for the boy, hampered as he was by his youth and his mother.
Cleary on books from her childhood
So many books in those days back in the 1920s, had been published in England, and the children had nannies and pony carts. They seemed like a bunch of sissies to me.
From 'Ramona and Her Father'
Ramona asked in a quiet voice, “Mother, why is Beezus so cross lately?” Letting her sister overhear such a question would lead to real trouble.
“You mustn’t mind her,” whispered Mrs. Quimby. “She’s reached a difficult age.”
Ramona thought such an all-purpose excuse for bad behavior would be a handy thing to have. “So have I,” she confided to her mother.
Cleary on which of her characters she'd want to have dinner with
I’d really like to have dinner with all of them, if they chewed with their mouths shut and sat up straight and minded their manners.
From 'Ramona Quimby, Age 8'
Ramona interrupted. “What’s child development?”
“How kids grow,” answered her father.
Why does anyone have to go to school to study a thing like that? wondered Ramona. All her life she had been told that the way to grow was to eat good food, usually food she did not like, and get plenty of sleep, usually when she had more interesting things to do than go to bed.
Cleary on reading
Children should learn that reading is pleasure, not just something that teachers make you do in school.
From 'Emily's Runaway Imagination'
June’s barrette was sliding out of her hair, but she did not care. That was the difference between Emily and June. Emily cared about things. June did not. This was sometimes discouraging to Emily, but in Pitchfork cousins were expected to like one another and no nonsense about it.
Cleary on the setting of her books
Quite often somebody will say, what year do your books take place? And the only answer I can give is, in childhood.
From 'The Luckiest Girl'
That was what made the start of a new high school year exciting—the possibility that this time things could be different. New school clothes, a change of locker partners, a new boy across the aisle in English class, even the autumn air, crisp and shining—all these could make a big difference in a girl’s life.
Cleary on writing
If you don't see the book you want on the shelves, write it.