Today in Literary History – April, 12, 1916 – Beverly Cleary is born

Beverly Cleary, the beloved author of books for children and young readers turns 102 years old today. She was born on April 12, 1916. She published her first book, Henry Huggins, in 1950 when she was a school librarian sensing children’s desire for books that rang true with their own lives.

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As of a 2006 survey she had sold over 91 million books, making her one of the best-selling YA authors. (The Harry Potter books were still tops at 120 million copies.) Her books are mostly set in Grant Park, the middle class suburb of Portland, Oregon, where she was raised. When asked once what year her books were set in she simply replied “Childhood.”

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Many of her 39 books (all of which are still in print) feature her best known characters — the sisters Beezus and Ramona Quimby and their neighbour Henry Huggins and his dog Ribsy. Cleary’s plots are realistic and emotionally relatable for her young audience.

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Pat Pflieger, a professor of children’s literature, told Newsweek magazine that “Cleary’s books have lasted because she understands her audience. She knows they’re sometimes confused or frightened by the world around them, and that they feel deeply about things that adults can dismiss.”

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Ramona Quimby statue in Portland, Oregon

Cleary’s own explanation is simpler. Ramona Quimby is popular, she said, because she “does not learn to be a better girl. I was so annoyed with the books in my childhood, because children always learned to be ‘better’ children and, in my experience, they didn’t. They just grew, and so I started Ramona … and she has never reformed. [She’s] really not a naughty child, in spite of the title Ramona the Pest. Her intentions are good, but she has a lot of imagination, and things sometimes don’t turn out the way she expected.”

Cleary’s last book was Ramona’s World, published in 1999 when she was 83.

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