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Who Are Beverly Cleary’s Child Book Characters?

An image of Beverly Cleary with some of her books for the Header Image of the Article

Beverly Cleary’s children book stories about Henry Huggins, Ramona Quimby, and other characters have entertained children and their parents since the 1950s. The now-retired author is 103 years old, and I have no trouble believing her when she says she had a long and happy career.

The more than 40 children’s books that she wrote have been acclaimed for several reasons. One of those reasons is a sense of humour that borders on satire, and that is characterised by respect. Cleary also is truly skilled at being able to weave all the little details of middle-class childhood into her stories. West Chester University children’s literature professor Pat Pflieger said that the secret to her success is her keen understanding of her young audience. The Prof. is right, of course. I believe that knowing what makes children tick is one of the most important aspects of writing classical children’s books.

Understanding the Struggle to Read

Beverly Cleary was born Beverly Atlee Bunn in McMinnville, Oregon, on the 12th of April 1916. Until she moved to Portland with her parents when she was six years old, Cleary spent carefree days on a farm in Yamhill.

The move happened when her father decided to give up farming. He worked as a bank security guard, while her mother was a schoolteacher. Initially, the move was not a happy one for Cleary. City life was a big adjustment for her, and she struggled to learn how to read – but then something amazing happened. A school librarian took the girl under her wing, and she helped her find easy-to-read books that interested her. By grade three, Cleary spent much time in the library, and she was reading at the same level as her classmates. When she was in grade six, one of her teachers said she should make a career of writing children’s books.

After graduating from Grant High School, Beverly Cleary enrolled at Chaffey College, California. Two years later, she entered the University of California at Berkeley, where she met Clarence Cleary. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1938, and the following year, she received a Master’s degree in library science from the University of Washington’s School of Library and Information Science. Beverly and Clarence eloped, and were married, in 1940. They ran away to wed because her Presbyterian parents did not approve of her Catholic fiancé. The couple moved to Carmel-by-the-Sea after the Second World War.

A Career Begins

Cleary began working as a children’s books author in 1942. In several interviews she described how she had spent a few years working as a children’s librarian. She spoke about how she battled to find books that appealed to young readers, primarily because they could not relate to the characters.

It was not long before Beverly Cleary decided to do something about the lack of quality novels for younger readers. She finished writing Henry Huggins in 1950, and a publisher accepted it immediately. The story features her beloved character Henry, as well as the ever-popular Beezus, Ramona, and Ribsy.

Her debut classical children’s book was followed by Henry and Beezus, Otis Spofford, and Henry and Ribsy. In 1995, Cleary wrote Beezus and Ramona, the first book in which the sisters appear as the main characters. That same year saw the birth of her twins, Malcolm and Marianne.

Well-Deserved Awards

In 1975, more than 20 years after the publication of her first novel, Beverly Cleary received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. Awarded by the American Library Association, it recognised her enduring and important contribution to children’s literature.

Among the other awards won during her career were the National Medal of Arts (2003), the Newbury Medal (1984), the National Book Award (1981), the William Allen White Children’s Book Award (1973), the Catholic Library Association’s Regina Medal (1980), and the Every Child Award (1985). She also has been nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. Her classical children’s books have been translated into more than 25 languages and the USA now celebrates her birthday as D.E.A.R (Drop Everything And Read) Day.

Beverly Cleary’s whole life has been one of getting children to read. What better way to spend your days on planet earth? If you are looking for stories that can get a child excited about reading, why not take a look at what’s available at Tobybooks.com?

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