In April of 2019, Beverly Cleary turned 103 years old. The iconic author, born Beverly Atlee Bunn, is best known for her novels about Ramona Quimby, a rambunctious young girl with a vividly wild imagination. Ninety-one million copies of Cleary’s books have been sold worldwide since her first book was published in 1950.
A lot of Cleary’s tales are set in Portland, Oregon where she was raised, but kids everywhere have been inspired by Cleary’s books and her quirky, engaging characters. Keep reading to learn more about this legendary writer.
She Was Placed In A Low Reading Group
When Beverly Cleary was in first grade, her teacher divided the class into different groups for reading and Beverly was placed in the group for struggling readers.
She said, “The first grade was separated into three reading groups—Bluebirds, Redbirds, and Blackbirds. I was a Blackbird. To be a Blackbird was to be disgraced. I wanted to read, but somehow could not.” Clearly, Beverly went on to be a great reader, and a great writer as well.
She Was A Children’s Librarian
As an adult, Beverly Cleary worked as a children’s librarian after earning a master’s degree in library science. She knew that she needed to be around books, and she loved introducing children to new stories.
Beverly said, “I believe in that ‘missionary spirit’ among children’s librarians. Kids deserve books of literary quality, and librarians are so important in encouraging them to read and selecting books that are appropriate.” Encouraging kids to enjoy reading is definitely a noble pursuit.
She Always Remembered Her Mother’s Advice
Beverly Cleary grew up as an only child. Her mother was a schoolteacher and her father was a farmer. While Beverly didn’t always get along with her parents, her mother did give her one piece of advice that she took to heart.
In her writing, she never forgot the advice her mother gave her: “Keep it funny. People always like to read something funny.” That’s very true, and Ramona always keeps us laughing.
Live Long And Prosper
Once, when Beverly was in high school, she and a friend discussed how long they would like to live. After much debate, they decided that 80 years of life would be the perfect amount.
Well, in 2019 and Beverly Cleary turned 103 years old. She made it well past 80, which we are all very grateful for. Her passion for reading must be keeping her happy and healthy. Here’s to the next century, Cleary!
A Student Inspired Her To Write Relatable Characters
When Cleary was working as a children’s librarian, a student angrily asked her, “Where are the books about kids like us?” That question inspired Cleary to create characters like Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby who appeared to be real people from the town that this student was from.
Representation is so important in literature and media, and Cleary saw that kids wanted to see themselves in the books that they read.
Her Parents Didn’t Approve Of Her Marriage
Beverly met her husband, Clarence Cleary, at The University of California at Berkeley where she was earning a bachelor’s degree in English. Clarence was a Roman Catholic and Beverly’s parents were Presbyterian, so they did not approve of the relationship.
Beverly and Clarence eloped in 1940 and remained married until Clarence Cleary died in 2004. Beverly and Clarence had two children together. Beverly gave birth to twins named Malcolm and Marianne in 1955.
A Bready Book-Writing Process
Beverly could make more than just books. She also liked to make bread in her spare time. While she was writing her first book, Henry Huggins, Cleary coordinated her writing days with bread baking.
She would stretch her legs when the dough needed to be punched down, again when it needed to be put into the oven, and she finished her writing day when the bread was ready to eat.
She Liked Apples (Kind Of)
When Cleary was a child, she would spend many hours daydreaming under an apple tree on her family’s farm. Often, she would take one bite of an apple, and then throw the apple on the ground.
She said, “the first bite of an apple always tastes best, and our tree was always bountiful.” Honestly, that sounds like something Ramona would do. At least apples are biodegradable, and the squirrels probably enjoyed her scraps.
She Does More Than Just Write Books For Kids
Kids fell in love with Ramona, Henry, and Beatrice, and they wanted to get in touch with the woman who brought those characters to life. Beverly Cleary has received thousands of letters from children who write to her about their problems. When she finds time between writing fiction and baking bread, she responds to many of the letters.
One boy wrote that the only adults that paid attention to him were Cleary and his social worker.
She Spent Hours Dusting Books
Beverly Cleary once worked as a librarian on an Army base in Oakland, California. The Army was very strict about cleanliness and they requested that all of the books stay dust-free. Cleary argued that there was way too much dust on the base, and she would never be able to keep the books entirely clean.
She ended up spending hours cleaning and restocking books because when an Army sergeant tells you to do something, you should probably do it.
A Mouse Model
Writers and illustrators work together to create books that are memorable and attractive. Cleary worked with illustrator Tracy Dockray on the book The Mouse and the Motorcycle. When Dockray sent the first illustrations to Cleary, she got a card back that said that her mouse ears were too big and that she needed a “mouse model.”
Dockray actually adopted a baby mouse and used him as the mouse model for the cover of The Mouse and the Motorcycle. That mouse ended up living in Dockray’s studio as her pet for the rest of its life.
She Knows How To Knit
Cleary’s grandmother taught her to sew when she was five years old. In college, Cleary was able to earn some extra money by knitting and sewing. She would shorten her friends’ skirts and knit lace yolks (she was paid 75 cents an ounce for the latter task).
It pays to be a woman of many talents. There’s no telling how much a hand knitted Beverly Clearly original scarf would go for these days.
Honored Dinner Guests
While on a press tour for one of her books, Cleary was asked which of her characters she’d most like to have dinner with. She responded, “I’d really like to have dinner with all of them, if they chewed with their mouths shut, sat up straight and minded their manners.”
Well, Ramona’s never been one to mind her manners, but I’m sure she’d pull her act together for the one and only Beverly Cleary.
She Once Won A Contest By Default
When Beverly was younger, she won a contest for writing the best essay about an animal. It’s not clear which animal she chose to write about, but we do know that she won the contest and she snagged $2 in prize money.
When she went to collect her prize, she was told that nobody else had entered the contest. Beverly said, “This incident was one of the most valuable lessons in writing I ever learned. Try!”
The Reason She Hates Almonds
Beverly’s family lost a lot of money during the Great Depression in the 1930s (as did everyone else in America). Beverly’s mother didn’t have a lot of money to buy new food items, so they just had to eat what was already in the pantry.
What was in the pantry, you ask? A large bottle of almond flavoring. Her mother used it to flavor everything, and to this day, Beverly hates almond-flavored desserts.
What She’s Most Proud Of
Beverly Cleary has accomplished a lot in her long career as a writer. She’s written around 50 successful children’s books, some of which have been adapted into movies and TV series. When a reporter asked Beverly what she was most proud of, she responded, “the fact that children love my books.”
I think that’s an excellent thing to be proud of. Ramona has inspired so many children to pick up a book and start reading.
A Cute Moment
Beverly and Clarence Cleary weren’t exactly fancy folks. On the night of Beverly’s college graduation, Clarence picked her up in a tuxedo, ready to take her out on the town. The thing is, Clarence had no idea how to tie a bow tie. He just showed up with the tie left untied.
When the couple stopped for gas, Clarence asked the gas station attendant to tie the tie for him.
She Shared Her Joy With A Mailman
After Beverly send out the manuscript for her first book, Henry Huggins, she told her mailman that she was hoping for a big white envelope with a publishing contract in it. Every day, Beverly would check the mail for that envelope, and pretty soon, her mailman started watching for it too.
One day, he came running up to her door with the envelope because he was so excited for her success. They opened the contract together.
The True Story Behind Dear Mr. Henshaw
Beverly Cleary’s novel Dear Mr. Henshaw is about a boy who writes to his favorite author after he finds out that his parents are getting a divorce. This novel is actually based on true events.
Cleary was inspired to write the book after she read two separate letters from boys who were fans of her work. Both boys asked her to write a story about divorce, so she happily obliged.
The People Who Got To See The Books In Advance
Very few people got to see copies of Beverly Cleary’s books before they were published. Before she sent the first draft of Henry Huggins to her publisher, she showed the story to her good friend. Her friend just said, “they’ll be glad to get it.”
After that, she only showed unfinished work to her husband, Clarence Cleary. The rest of us would have to wait until the books were published to read them.
Ramona The TV Series
In 1988, Beverly Cleary’s character Ramona got her very own TV series. The Ramona series became a 10-episode television show in 1988, starring Sarah Polley. It was filmed in Canada and aired on PBS. The series was pretty well received, but it wasn’t renewed for a second season.
Sarah Polley, the actress who played Ramona, went on to become a successful filmmaker whose very personal movie The Stories We Tell won many awards at various film festivals.
In 2010, Selena Gomez and Joey King starred in Ramona and Beezus, a movie adaptation of Beverly Cleary’s famous books. Cleary wanted the film to be as timeless as the books, so she insisted on getting rid of anything that might date it — like technology, slang or clothing trends.
Some say that movies can never be as timeless as books, but at least they tried their best on this one!
Wear Your Glasses
Beverly Cleary had poor eyesight and she needed to use glasses to see properly. Cleary’s mother thought that glasses would ruin Beverly’s appearance, so she wouldn’t let her wear them to school. Things were different 100 years ago.
Nowadays, many people find glasses attractive and there are other solutions to vision problems. Luckily, Cleary finally got the glasses she needed. Who knows if she’d have turned out to be such a good writer without them.
She’s Won Many Awards
Beverly Cleary is a celebrated author who has won many awards for her creative stories and her dedication to children’s literacy. She received the National Medal of Arts in 2003, the Newbery Medal in 1984 for Dear Mr. Henshaw, the National Book Award for Ramona and Her Mother, and the Catholic Library Association’s Regina Medal Award in 1980 for her contribution to children’s literature as a whole.
She’s also received the University of Southern Mississippi 1982 Silver Medallion, the 1985 Everychild Award, and the 1975 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award.
The Children Of A Legend
Beverly Cleary had two children, twins: a son named Malcolm James and a daughter named Marianne Elizabeth. You might think that they had a particularly eventful childhood because of who their mother is, but in reality, their growing-up years were pretty average.
In fact, Malcolm says the only difference between his childhood and the way his friends were raised was that his family had a bigger mailbox for all of his mother’s fan mail.
Ramona The Accident
Ramona was actually something of an afterthought when she was first conceived. Beverly Cleary noticed that all of the children in her novel were ‘only children’ (probably because Beverly was an only child herself), so she decided to add in a little sister for Beezus.
Ramona quickly developed as a character in Beverly’s mind and now she’s the character that Cleary gets the most fan mail about. Everybody loves a little pest.
A Solid Excuse
Before Beverly Cleary’s writing career really took off, she was suffering from writer’s block. She told her husband Clarence that she wasn’t writing because she didn’t have any sharp pencils. Clarence knew that wasn’t entirely true, but the next day, he brought home a pencil sharpener.
Now Beverly didn’t have any valid excuses. She had to start writing— and once she started, she never really stopped. I guess we also have Clarence to thank for all of those wonderful books.
Her 100th Birthday
Fans worldwide celebrated Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday, which fell on April 12, 2016. New editions of her classic books were released, and kids everywhere were encouraged to “Drop Everything and Read” to honor Cleary’s vast contributions to children’s literature.
She had a modest celebration at home, treating herself to a slice of carrot cake, but was fine with all the attention for others. Go ahead and fuss,” she told the Washington Post about the big day. “Everyone else is.”
Her Twins Are Responsible For Ramona and Beezus
Fans didn’t get a book totally focused on the Quimby sisters until 1955 when Beezus and Ramona was published. Cleary’s publisher asked her to write a book about a kindergarten student, but Cleary didn’t want to because she never went to kindergarten.
But after Cleary’s twins were born, she changed her mind. Seeing her twins go to kindergarten gave her enough insight into the topic to create Beezus and Ramona.
She’s Written A Couple Of Memoirs
Beverly Cleary has written two memoirs, A Girl from Yamhill, which was published in 1988, and My Own Two Feet which was published in 1995. When Cleary was 95 years old in 2011, she did an interview with the Los Angeles Times, at which time she stated, “I’ve had an exceptionally happy career.”
Trust us when we say that kids around the world have had an exceptionally happy time reading your books, Beverly! Thank you!