Beverly Cleary launched her career as a children’s book author with 1950’s Henry Huggins. She soon followed up with more realistic and funny tales of growing up, including Beezus and Ramona (1955) and Henry and the Paper Route (1957). Her stories about Ramona Quimby, which included Ramona the Pest (1968) and Ramona and Her Mother (1979) were a particular favorite for many readers. Cleary’s later works include the memoirs, A Girl from Yamhill (1988) and My Own Two Feet (1995), and the children’s novel Ramona’s World (1999).
Childhood and Education
Born Beverly Atlee Bunn on April 12, 1916, in McMinnville, Oregon, Beverly Cleary is one of America’s most beloved children’s book authors. She is the creative talent behind such classic works as Henry Higgins, Ramona the Pest and The Mouse and the Motorcycle. She spent her early years on her family’s farm in Yamhill, Oregon. But economic hard times later led her family to move to Portland where her father found work as a bank security officer. Cleary struggled a bit with city life, especially with school. She barely made it through the first grade.
Later on, Cleary showed promise as a writer, earning praise from her school librarian for her work. The teacher said that “When Beverly grows up, she should write children’s books,” Cleary wrote in her memoir A Girl From Yamhill. After high school, she attended a junior college before transferring to University of California in Berkeley. There she met Clarence Cleary, the man who would be her lifelong love.
Cleary earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Berkeley in 1938 and then attended University of Washington’s librarianship program. Her first librarian job was in Yakima, Washington. She married Clarence in 1940 despite her parents’ objections. The couple later welcomed twins, son Malcolm and daughter Marianne.
‘Henry Higgins,’ ‘Ramona the Pest’ and Other Works
While working in Yakima, Cleary was inspired to write by some of her young library patrons. "I worked with a lively little band of parochial-school boys," she told People magazine. "They were nonreaders, and in those days it was very hard to find books for little boys. There were animal stories, of course, but there weren't any books about what these boys called 'kids like us.' " Cleary published Henry Huggins in 1950, the first of her novels that explored the everyday lives of children. Writing with humor, she depicts the challenges Henry faces when he befriends a dog he names Ribsy.
In addition to her novels featuring Henry, Cleary branched out to write about other characters found on the now famous Klickitat Street. Beezus and Ramona (1955) focused on Henry’s friend Beezus and her quirky handful of a little sister Ramona. Young readers couldn’t get enough of Ramona, and Cleary showed her growing up over a series of novels, including Ramona the Pest (1968) and Ramona and Her Father (1977). Cleary also won fans with The Mouse and the Motorcycle (1965), and its sequels Runaway Ralph (1970) and Ralph S. Mouse (1982).
In Dear Mr. Henshaw (1984), Cleary provided a child’s view of the aftermath of divorce. The story’s main character struggles with his feelings after his parents split up through his letters to a favorite author and his own diary. The book won the 1984 Newbery Medal. Later on, Cleary shared her life’s own ups and downs in two memoirs: A Girl from Yamhill (1988) and My Own Two Feet (1995). She also returned to the much beloved character of Ramona in 1999’s Ramona’s World. In this novel, Ramona has to cope with becoming a big sister for the first time.
During her impressive career, Cleary has earned numerous accolades for her work. She received the 1975 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the American Library Association and the 2003 National Medal of Art. The Library of Congress named her a “Living Legend” in 2000 for her contributions to children’s literature.
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