On April 12th, beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary will turn 100-- and she’s still got serious spunk. Her characters, like Ramona and Beezus Quimby, are known for their spunk, too; they’re sharply realistic, witty, relatable and lovable. Ramona goes down in history along with Matilda and Pippi Longstocking as some of the coolest girls in kids’ literature; these were girls who taught us that it was good to be weird, smart, outspoken, strong, and nonconforming.
Growing up, Cleary wanted to read about characters like this too. She didn’t start to read until the second grade, and when she did, she couldn’t find any books she liked. “Most books in those days, back in the 1920s, had been published in England, and the children had nannies and pony carts and they seemed like a bunch of sissies to me,” she told Today in a recent interview. So Cleary proceeded to write more than 40 books of very non-sissy material. These weren’t books about respectable little girls; these are books about real kids-- messy, grumpy, curious, rambunctious. I learned the word “scowl” from reading Ramona books (she scowled a lot).
Turning 100 next month, Cleary said, is a surprise. She and a best friend decided in high school that “80 was the cutoff date” for them in terms of lifespan. But here she is, still going strong and sharply funny at age 99. Asked how she feels about turning 100, Cleary said, “I didn’t do it on purpose!”
To mark her 100th birthday, new editions of Ramona Quimby, Age 8; The Mouse and the Motorcycle; Henry Huggins; and Cleary’s memoir A Girl From Yamhill were released this January, with forewords by Cleary fans Amy Poehler, Kate DiCamillo, and Judy Blume. In her foreword to Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Poehler wrote: “In today’s world, where people are always searching for ‘strong female characters,’ Mrs. Cleary was ahead of her time. Ramona was a pest! She was irascible and uncompromising! She was allowed to be angry and was not afraid to stand up to boys!”
Cleary has influenced children’s book authors for nearly the past century. She’s given kids realistic characters to relate to. She’s won one Newbery medal and two Newbery honors, as well as dozens of awards from readers. She was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress. She taught me the word “scowl”. She’s lived twenty years past her “cutoff date." But what she’s most proud of? "The fact that children love my books," she said.
I hope she knows us grown-up kids love them, too.
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Knitter. Writer. Witch. Seattle rain-lover.
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