The accomplished and successful children’s book author Beverly Cleary passed away at 104 years old this past March. Cleary was best known for her books about Ramona Quimby, a young girl who had childhood experiences that young readers could often relate to. Cleary leaves behind a career and legacy that will stand the test of time.
Cleary’s career as an author began in 1950 when she published her first book, “Henry Huggins.” In the following years, Cleary wrote many books including “Beezus and Ramona,” “The Mouse and the Motorcycle,” and “Dear Mr. Henshaw.” Cleary’s popularity stemmed from how well she was able to write from the perspective of a child.
In a Today Show interview in 2016, Cleary said the books that were written when she was a child weren’t relatable.
“So many books in those days, back in the 1920s, had been published in England and the children had nannies and pony carts,” Cleary said in the interview.
Cleary also revealed that when she was a school librarian, a little boy had come up to her and asked her sternly, “Where are the books about kids like us?” These unrelatable experiences caused Cleary to take the matter into her own hands and write books that children of all ages could relate to and enjoy.
Kathryn Alton, childhood education program leader at SUNY Plattsburgh, had been one of those children who enjoyed Cleary’s books all throughout her childhood.
“I grew up with Beverly Cleary’s books and her writing had a significant impact on me as a young reader. I loved so many of her stories and I have wonderful memories of reading them with my mom at bedtime each night,” Alton said. “Because so much of her writing was series-based, I felt like I was really able to grow with the books and [they] kept me excited to jump into the next adventure. Ramona, Henry and Ralph S. Mouse weren’t just characters in a book to me, they were a part of my childhood.”
Alton believes that Cleary’s previous job helped influence and inspire her writing when she became an author later on.
“Cleary worked as a children’s librarian prior to becoming an author herself, and you could really see her understanding of what children want to read in the way she wrote,” Alton said. “The struggles and conflicts that the characters in her books dealt with were not these grand battles, they were everyday problems that most kids face.”
Elaine Ostry, associate professor of English at SUNY Plattsburgh, also has great admiration for Cleary and even teaches the books in her classes. Ostry said that Cleary had a talent for being able to accurately depict experiences from a child’s point of view.
“There’s so much energy and humor in her writing and also sensitivity,” Ostry said. “She really understands what it’s like to be a young child.”
Ostry mentioned an example in Cleary’s Ramona Quimby series that accurately represented what it’s like to have misunderstandings as a young child.
“When Ramona comes to kindergarten and her teacher tells her to ‘sit here for the present,’ and she thinks she’s going to get a gift, but she’s actually being told to sit there for a little while. It’s just so cute how many misunderstandings with language there are,” Ostry said.
Cleary’s books have continued to be popular among young children today, despite being written several decades ago. Ostry isn’t surprised by this because of one reason.
“Childhood never really changes,” Ostry said. “The technology may have changed, but the feelings of childhood don’t change. The anxieties don’t change, family dynamics don’t change and younger sisters will always irritate older sisters.”
Ostry believes that Cleary’s legacy will continue long after she’s gone and the effect she had on generations of youth will live on as well.
Cleary’s impact on children can not be stressed enough. Her ability to accurately represent the way a child thinks has made many children feel seen and understood over the years.
Physically, Cleary is no longer with us, but her impact will continue to live in the many hearts she has touched with the lovable characters and stories she created.
Rest in peace Beverly.