One of the most beloved and influential authors of books for children, Beverly Cleary, has died at 104. Her more than 30 books for children were full of believable, adventurous, and humorous characters most notably the unforgettable Ramona Quimby and her older sister Beezus. In 1984, Ms. Cleary was awarded the Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw, the story of a young boy who writes to his favorite author while his parents are divorcing.
Beverly Cleary was an early speaker at several SCBWI conferences, and an avid supporter of our young organization. She was a gifted storyteller, unsentimental about the joys and sorrows and frustrations of childhood, and as such, was a revolutionary figure in the history of children’s books. She told the stories that everyday children wanted to hear, warts and all, with humor and grace and a heaping dose of reality. “Beverly Cleary’s characters live and breathe in the hearts of generations of children, and will continue to delight as long as kids laugh and feel,” Lin Oliver, Executive Director of the SCBWI stated. “She is a pillar in our field.”
Born in 1916 she began her life on an Oregon farm, but when the depression hit and the bank foreclosed on the farm the family moved into Portland. Beverly was not at all happy with the books she was given in her new school. She thought, in fact, that they were “incredibly stupid”, and vowed to find—and maybe even someday write—books about real children, like herself. After graduating from college, she went to work as a librarian. Soon after, in 1950, she published her first book, Henry Huggins, starring a funny, real life character, precisely someone she had wanted to read about as a child.
Her books not only entertained generations of children, they inspired hosts of children’s book authors to follow her lead in bringing realistic characters to life.
A number of years ago the Library of Congress named her a living legend and designated her birthday, April 12, as a national Drop Everything and Read Day to be celebrated across the nation in schools and libraries.
Her books will long endure, but so will the inspiration she passed on to hundreds of authors.
Ms. Cleary famously once said, that in her early days as a librarian in Yakima, Washington a “grubby little boy”, asked. “Where are the books about kids like us?” Those words stuck with her, and children’s books were never quite the same again.