Erin Phillips, Librarian Cape Breton Regional Library
On April 12 2021, Beverly Cleary would have celebrated her 105th birthday. I was planning to write a review of her books and post a book display on that day. Unfortunately, Cleary passed away on March 25 2021, just a few weeks before reaching that milestone.
Beverly Cleary began her career as an author when she was a children’s librarian frustrated with the poor selection of books available to children. Cleary felt there weren’t any books that American children growing up in the 1950s could relate to – so she wrote some. Amazingly, her books written from the 1950s through to the 1990s are still relatable to children today. Her first book, Henry Huggins, was published in 1950. Soon Henry would be overshadowed by Romana Quimby, whom Cleary wrote eight books about in total. Other popular books by Cleary include the Mouse and the Motorcycle and Dear Mr. Henshaw, which won a Newbery Medal in 1984.
As a child growing up in the 1980s the Ramona books were some of the first novels I ever read. I also remember the 1980s TV & movie versions of Ramona and the Mouse and the Motorcycle. The Ramona books had such a big impact on me, I even named my first cat Ramona.
Now, as an adult reading the Ramona books with my kids, I have been rediscovering Cleary’s talented writing. When writing from Ramona’s perspective Cleary was able to focus on the little things that dominate kid’s worlds. In Ramona the Brave, an incident involving a classmate copying her work leads to many tears of frustration and embarrassment for Ramona. Cleary reminds us all of what it really was like to be a child and she excelled at conveying the emotional intensity of these not-so-small events in a child’s life. As says David Von Drehle says this article from the Washington Post Cleary captured,
“…the feeling of being between 5 and 10 years old. The boredom, frustration, mortification, warmth, impulsiveness, liability, silliness, bewilderment and capacity to forgive. It’s not the feeling of looking at children. It’s not the feeling of having once been a child. It’s neither nostalgia nor “baggage.” It’s childhood as it feels in real time. “
As a parent myself, reading the Ramona books I also really appreciate the characters of Ramona’s parents. These are not stereotypical parents of children’s novels who only show up to punish their kids – these are real parents with real problems to deal with themselves, such as finding new jobs or juggling the work-life balance. Sometimes I think my family is the Quimby family that is how similar the family dynamics are.
If you are looking for a great book series to read-aloud to your family or real life stories to hook your child on reading novels independently than look no further than Beverly Cleary books.
And you can still celebrate Beverly Cleary’s birthday on April 12th each year, which with D.E.A.R. Day – Drop Everything and Read Day which encourages families to drop everything else they are doing and read together for at least 30 minutes.
Cape Breton Regional Library has many of Cleary’s books in paper, digital or audiobook formats! Some titles are also available on hoopla.