Beverly Cleary at 100

NOTE:  I was sad to hear Beverly Cleary died today at 104.  I wrote about her four years ago when she was a young 100.  Here is the post:

Thank you, Frank Bruni, for reminding me of Beverly Cleary’s birthday on Tuesday, April 12th, in today’s New York Times Sunday Review article.  

When librarian Cleary introduced Ramona in her first book,Henry Huggins, in 1950, she created a fan base now extending to well-known artists today, including Kate DiCamillo, Judy Blume, and Amy Poehler, who wrote introductions to recent re-releases of three of Cleary’s books – Ramona Quimby, Age 8; The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and Henry Huggins.

character_ramona_starI’ve always identified with the feisty, irreverent Ramona who always has a question, because as Cleary noted in the interview: “I was a well-behaved girl, but I often thought like Ramona.”

In her interview, Beverly Cleary’s wise note hit a chord with me:

“As a child, I very much objected to books that tried to teach me something.  I just wanted to read for pleasure, and I did. But if a book tried to teach me, I returned it to the library.”

When we read books or discuss them, is it always necessary to dissect them?  As Robert Frost said, “Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”  

Children’s books offer a welcome relief in reading, and you don’t have to be a child to enjoy them.  If you are fan of Beverly Cleary books, now is a good time to get reacquainted. Ramona the Pest is my favorite – what’s yours?

9780061960901_p0_v4_s192x300If you somehow missed meeting Ramona in Cleary’s books, it’s not too late.

I have more to say about Beverly Cleary:

Summer of the Gypsy Moths

GetAttachment-4.aspxHow long can two little girls hide a dead old aunt, as they manage the Linger Longer Cottage Colony in Cape Cod in Sara Pennypacker’s tween novel Summer of the Gypsy Moths? With humor, compassion, and a dog named Treb, Pennypacker’s heroine combines the heart of a child with the maturity of an adult.

When Stella’s spirited mother runs off to find happiness, she leaves Stella with her great-aunt Louise, caretaker for a string of summer cottages on the Cape. Louise decides to foster a Portuguese girl, Angel, as a companion and friend for the little girl. No one expects Louise to die, and when she does, the young girls decide that life alone would be better than the unknown possibilities of an orphan home – and they know how to keep a secret.

Once you get past the macabre scenes of a dead body and the unlikely burial, the tale of friendship and responsibility is endearing, and you will be cheering for the girls to succeed. Stella’s penchant for Heloise’s Helpful Hints substitutes for motherly advice as the two girls clean the cottages between guests; at times, those helpful hints offer funny possibilities – who knew Febreze laundry odor eliminator would help with the smell of a dead body. The girls set up a baby-sitting service, dig for clams on the beach, and try to stop an infestation of caterpillars in blueberry bushes planted years ago by Stella’s mom. The ending has everyone living happily ever after, with the two wily girls demonstrating their resourcefulness.

Pennypacker has been compared to Beverly Cleary with growing-up stories that have a message – for both adults and children. With moments that will have you aching for their loneliness and laughing at their gumption, Summer of the Gypsy Moths is worth the read.

The Reading Promise

The best part of Alice Ozma’s The Reading Promise is the list of books at the back. Including all the L. Frank Baum, Judy Blume, Ramona (Beverly Cleary), Harry Potter, and Encyclopedia Brown (Sobol) books, most of Charles Dickens, and short stories by Edgar Allan Poe – the list also suggests the following classics:

  • The Secret Garden
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
  • James and the Giant Peach
  • Because of Winn-Dixie
  • Hoot
  • Goodbye, Mr. Chips
  • From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • The Giver
  • Winnie-the-Pooh
  • Island of the Blue Dolphns
  • The Great Gilly Hopkins
  • Maniac Magee
  • Dicey’s Song
  • The Pigman

Ozma offers seven pages of titles – all read to her  by her father as they used nightly reading for father/daughter bonding in a mutual promise to maintain an eight year “streak” of uninterrupted nights of reading.   The book is a stretched out and unremarkable memoir, but the list is a nice reference, if you need one.

Happy Birthday Beverly Cleary

Beverly Cleary is 95 years old today. She’s written two memoirs – The Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet, but it’s her award winning children’s books that endear her to readers.

The New York Times Sunday Book Review included a short anecdote about her fan mail being accidentally switched with that of Judy Blume, citing one reader asking Blume for her garbage, and a latch-key girl writing to Cleary to tell her how her books made her feel safe when she was alone in her house, waiting for her mother.  Cleary wrote back – she still does.

In her essay, Ramona Forever, Pamela Paul, the New York Times children’s book editor, clearly identifies the reasons for Cleary’s popularity and offers some of Cleary’s advice to prospective children’s book authors:

“Keep it simple…the proper subject of the novel is universal human experience grounded in the minutiae of ordinary life.”

I browsed the stacks for some old favorites to reread…while I have some jelly with my mashed potatoes.

Today is also Drop Everything and Read DayA Letter from Ramona Q.