Beverly Cleary, beloved children’s book author, dies at 104

Beverly Cleary, the celebrated child author whose memories of her childhood in Oregon were shared with millions through the likes of Ramona and Beezus Quimby and Henry Huggins, has passed away. He was 104 years old.

Cleary’s editor, HarperCollins, announced Friday that the author died Thursday in Northern California, where she had lived since the 1960s. No cause of death was given.

Trained as a librarian, Cleary did not start writing books until she was 30, when she wrote “Henry Huggins,” published in 1950. Children around the world came to love the adventures of Huggins and her neighbors Ellen Tebbits, Otis Spofford, Beatrice ” Beezus “Quimby and his younger sister, Ramona. They live in a homey and healthy environment on Klickitat Street, a real street in Portland, Oregon, the city where Cleary spent much of her youth.

Among the titles of “Henry” were “Henry and Ribsy”, “Henry and the paper route” and “Henry and Beezus”.

Ramona, perhaps his best-known character, debuted in “Henry Huggins” with only a brief mention.

“All the children seemed to be only children, so I included a little sister and she didn’t go away. She kept showing up in all the books,” she said in a March 2016 phone interview from her home in California.

Cleary herself was an only child and said that the character was not a mirror.

“I was a girl who behaved well, not that I wanted to be,” she said. “At Ramona’s age, in those days, kids would play outside. We would play hopscotch and rope skipping and I loved them and it had always scratched my knees.”

In all, there were eight books on Ramona between “Beezus and Ramona” in 1955 and “Ramona’s World” in 1999. Others included “Ramona the Pest” and “Ramona and Her Father.” In 1981, “Ramona y su madre” won the National Book Award.

Cleary wasn’t writing recently because she said she felt “it’s important for writers to know when to quit.”

“I even got rid of my typewriter. It was nice, but I hate writing. When I started writing, I found that I was thinking more about writing than what I was going to say, so I wrote it by hand.” said in March 2016.

Although he put his pen away, Cleary relaunched three of his most treasured books with three famous fans who wrote prologues for the new editions.

Actress Amy Poehler wrote the first part of “Ramona Quimby, 8 years old”; author Kate DiCamillo wrote the opening for “The Mouse and the Motorcycle”; and author Judy Blume wrote the foreword to “Henry Huggins.”

Cleary, who describes herself as “fuddy-duddy,” said there was a simple reason why she started writing children’s books.

“As a librarian, kids were always asking for books about ‘kids like us.’ Well, there weren’t any books about kids like them. So when I sat down to write, I found myself writing about the kind of kids I had I grew up with,” Cleary said in an interview with the Associated Press in 1993.

“Dear Mr. Henshaw,” the poignant story of a lonely boy who corresponds to the author of a children’s book, won the 1984 John Newbery Medal for Most Distinguished Contribution to American Children’s Literature. “It came about because two different kids from different parts of the country asked me to write a book about a boy whose parents got divorced,” he told National Public Radio as he approached his 90th birthday.

“Ramona and her father” in 1978 and “Ramona Quimby, 8 years old” in 1982 were named Newbery Honor Books.

Cleary ventured into fantasy with “The Mouse and the Motorcycle” and the sequels “Runaway Ralph” and “Ralph S. Mouse.” “Socks”, about a cat’s struggle to be accepted when its owners have a baby, is told from the point of view of the pet itself.

It was named a Living Legend in 2000 by the Library of Congress. In 2003, she was chosen as one of the winners of the National Medal of Arts and met President George W. Bush. She is praised in literary circles everywhere.

Former President George W. Bush received the National Medal of Arts in 2003. From left to right: musician Buddy Guy; the dancer Suzanne Farrell; Bush; author Beverly Cleary; and director Ron Howard.

Tim Sloan / AFP via Getty

She produced two volumes of autobiography for young readers, “A Girl from Yamhill,” about her childhood, and “My Own Two Feet,” which tells the story of her college and young adult years up to the time of her first book.

“It seems I grew up with an unusual memory. People are in awe of the things I remember. I think it comes from living in isolation on a farm for the first six years of my life where my main activity was observing,” Cleary said.

Cleary was born Beverly Bunn on April 12, 1916 in McMinnville, Oregon, and lived on a farm in Yamhill until her family moved to Portland when she was of school age. She was a slow reader, which she attributed to the disease, and a petty first-grade teacher who disciplined her with a steel-tipped pointer on the back of her hands.

“I had chicken pox, smallpox and tonsillitis in the first grade and nobody seemed to think that it had anything to do with my reading problems,” Cleary told the AP. “I just got mad and rebelled.”

In sixth or seventh grade, “I decided I was going to write children’s stories,” she said.

Cleary graduated from college in Ontario, California, and the University of California at Berkeley, where she met her husband, Clarence. They were married in 1940; Clarence Cleary died in 2004. They were the parents of twins, a boy and a girl born in 1955 who inspired his book “Mitch and Amy.”

Cleary studied library science at the University of Washington and worked as a children’s librarian in Yakima, Washington, and a post-librarian at Oakland Army Hospital during World War II.

His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages ​​and have inspired Japanese, Danish and Swedish television shows based on the Henry Huggins series. A 10-part PBS series, “Ramona,” starring Canadian actress Sarah Polley. The 2010 film “Ramona and Beezus” featured actresses Joey King and Selena Gomez.

Cleary was once asked what her favorite character was.

“Does your mother have a favorite son?” She answered.


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