She pioneered a new style of writing for children as she steered away from fantasy and historical fiction and chose to keep the plot rooted in reality.
The beloved children's author Beverly Cleary passed away on Thursday at the age of 104. Her publisher HarperCollins announced her death on Friday and said she was in Carmel, California at the time of her demise. "We are saddened by the passing of Beverly Cleary, one of the most beloved children's authors of all time," said HarperCollins Children's Books President Suzanne Murphy in the company's news release. "Looking back, she'd often say, 'I've had a lucky life,' and generations of children count themselves lucky too — lucky to have the very real characters Beverly Cleary created, including Henry Huggins, Ramona, and Beezus Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse, as true friends who helped shape their growing-up years," Murphy continued according to CNN.
Born in Beverly Bunn in McMinnville, Oregon, on April 12, 1916, Cleary grew up on a farm in a nearby town called Yamhill. It was after her family's move to Portland, Oregan, that the late author was encouraged by a school librarian to write a children's book. Cleary went on to study at Chaffey College in California, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Washington in Seattle, before becoming a children's librarian in Portland, Oregan. Throughout this journey, the advice she received from the school librarian stuck with her and soon she would begin writing.
Per HarperCollins, Cleary was reminded of her dream of writing a children's book when "a little boy faced me rather ferociously across the circulation desk and said: 'Where are the books about kids like us?'" But to boy's dismay, there weren't any thus Cleary sat down and wrote her first book 'Henry Huggins', a story about a regular little boy on Klickitat Street in Portland. While the book was a hit, her readers were curious about the little girl who lived up the street. It was Ramona Quimby, a mischievous, spunky girl and Cleary's most famous and unforgettable character. The author kept her stories simple as she wrote about the kids in her own neighborhood.
"I think children want to read about normal, everyday kids. That's what I wanted to read about when I was growing up," Cleary told NPR's Linda Wertheimer in 1999. "I wanted to read about the sort of boys and girls that I knew in my neighborhood and in my school. And in my childhood, many years ago, children's books seemed to be about English children, or pioneer children. And that wasn't what I wanted to read. And I think children like to find themselves in books." The clear, direct style of writing and honest portrayal of her characters helped strike a chord with generations of readers who grew up with her books and ensured that Cleary's books never went out of print.
She drew a lot of inspiration from her childhood memories, which she vividly etched in her mind, to capture the tribulations of young kids exquisitely in her works. "I'm just lucky. I do have very clear memories of childhood," said Cleary. "I find that many people don't, but I'm just very fortunate." The author pioneered a new style of writing for children as she steered away from fantasy and historical fiction and chose to keep the plot rooted in reality. Her refreshing and honest style touching many and soon her books began racking up awards. In 1975 she won the American Library Association's Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for "a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children."
Then in 1981, she received the National Book Award for children's fiction for 'Ramona and Her Mother'. She was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress in 2000 and in 2003 she was awarded the National Medal of Art from the National Endowment of the Arts. In 1984 her 'Dear Mr. Henshaw' won the John Newberry Medal for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Cleary insisted on answering her fan mail for thirty years herself despite objections from publishers who wanted her to focus on writing more books. "I learned a lot from children's letters. Dear Mr. Henshaw came about because two different boys from different parts of the country asked me to write a book about a boy whose parents were divorced. And so I wrote Dear Mr. Henshaw, and it won the Newbery."
Despite modern-day distractions, Cleary believed that kids would continue reading. "I don't think anything takes the place of reading," she said in 2006 according to NPR. "I think deep down inside children are all the same. hey want two loving parents and they would prefer a house with a neighborhood they can play in. They want teachers that they can like. I don't think children have changed that much. It's the world that has changed." Cleary is survived by her two children, Malcolm and Marianne, three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.