For some reason, the notion that Beverly Cleary, children’s novelist extraordinaire, turns 95-years-young today crushed my mindgrapes. I sort of always imagined her as a spry 45-year-old. Even though I knew that wasn’t the case.
Her most celebrated series — Henry Huggins, Ralph the Mouse, Beezus and Ramona — all still in print, take children’s questions seriously even as they allow for the humor within.
“I longed for funny stories about the sort of children who lived in my neighborhood,” Cleary wrote in one of her memoirs, “My Own Two Feet,” which describes her evolution from Depression-era schoolgirl in Portland, Ore., to budding author in postwar Berkeley, Calif.
An only child, whose parents were forced to sell the family farm, Cleary was painfully shy. Troubled at school and beset by bad teachers, she didn’t learn to read until the third grade. Though, as she remarked tartly in our conversation, “My mother always read to me, so why should I learn to read?”
Beverly Cleary is one of those authors that deserves to be revisited. Just added it to the list of things to do, along with plowing through Elmore Leonard’s canon.