I just decided that when I grow up I want to be a century-year-old writer like Beverly Cleary, who just celebrated the biggest birthday yet.
Cleary, the award-winning author of the Ramona Quimby series, dedicated her life to helping young readers live vicariously through characters like Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins and Ralph S. Mouse, who learn about bullying, sibling rivalry, and many issues surrounding the general politics of growing up.
Cleary was born on April 12 in 1916 in McMinnville, OR. She said, “Children should learn that reading is pleasure, not just something that teachers make you do in school.”
Now, one of America's most successful living authors, Clearly has sold 91 million copies of her books worldwide, ever since her first, Henry Huggins, published in 1950. In her early 30s, while working part-time in a bookstore, she attempted to write a children’s book. Before that, she had been a librarian before World War II, and wished there were books about children living normal lives. As a child, she wanted to read about the kind of kids she knew in her town and school, and decided to create them. “I think children like to find themselves in books,” she has been known to say.
Cleary, who claims her birthday is a surprise to her although she has no major health issues, spent her childhood on a farm in Oregon before moving to the big city of Portland during the Depression. In 2006, in an interview with NPR, she said she has always thought like a kid and was lucky enough to still had very clear memories of her childhood, unlike a lot of people.
Before the family’s move to Portland, they lived in a farm town too small to have a library. Beverly’s mother made an arrangement with the State Library to send books to an upstairs room over a bank, where her mother acted as librarian. That’s where Beverly fell in love with books.
Yet, when she started school in Portland, she wasn’t considered a very good reader. In fact, the shock of moving to a city found her being punished for daydreaming in class. Later, she told the Washington Post she almost flunked out of the first grade. But it was a local librarian who helped Cleary improve her reading skills, and by third great, she conquered her issues and her life has been about books and reading ever since. During the Great Depression, Cleary went to Chaffey Junior College, which had free tuition, and went on to the University of California-Berkeley, and ultimately received a Masters in Library Sciences from the University of Washington. To pay for her education after junior college, she took odd jobs. She was a seamstress and chambermaid.
According to her daughter, Marianne Cleary, her mother was equipped with solid life skills that contributed to her success, such as discipline. “When she would write every morning, she would sit down after breakfast, my brother and I would go to school, and she'd write, till noon or so. She never waited for inspiration, she just got to it."
Inspiration came from everywhere, including children she knew growing up as well as plots based on experiences shared by her little fans. She wrote Dear Mr. Henshaw after receiving a letter from two boys who asked her to write about divorce. And she was glad she did when in 1984, she won the Newbery Medal. Among her numerous awards, among the most prestigious, is the Library of Congress “Living Legend” award, which she received in 2000. Cleary’s birthday has been designated “Drop Everything and Read Day,” a way to promote mental stimulation and growth, while celebrating the pioneer of emotional realism in children’s books.