Beverly Cleary was born in McMinnville, Oregon, and, until she was old enough to attend school, lived on a farm in Yamhill, a town so small it had no library. Her mother arranged with the State Library to have books sent to Yamhill and acted as librarian in a lodge room upstairs over a bank. There Mrs. Cleary learned to love books. When the family moved to Portland, where Mrs. Cleary attended grammar school and high school, she soon found herself in the low reading circle, an experience that has given her sympathy for the problems of struggling readers.
By the third grade she had conquered reading and spent much of her childhood either with books or on her way to and from the public library. Before long her school librarian was suggesting that she should write for boys and girls when she grew up. The idea appealed to her, and she decided that someday she would write the books she longed to read but was unable to find on the library shelves, funny stories about her neighborhood and the sort of children she knew. And so Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, Ellen Tebbits, and her other beloved characters were born.
When children ask Mrs. Cleary where she finds her ideas, she replies, “From my own experience and from the world around me.” She included a passage about the D.E.A.R. program in Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (pages 40-41) after she received numerous letters from readers who mentioned the great reading program they were doing in class. It seemed like something Ramona’s class would do, too, so she put it in the book.
Mrs. Cleary's books have earned her many prestigious awards, including the 1984 John Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw, for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children in 1983. Her Ramona and Her Father and Ramona Quimby, Age 8 were named 1978 and 1982 Newbery Honor Books, respectively.
Among Mrs. Cleary's other awards are the American Library Association's 1975 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, the Catholic Library Association's 1980 Regina Medal, and the University of Southern Mississippi's 1982 Silver Medallion, all presented in recognition of her lasting contribution to children's literature. In addition, Mrs. Cleary was the 1984 United States author nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, a prestigious international award.
Equally important are the more than 35 statewide awards Mrs. Cleary's books have received based on the direct votes of her young readers. In 2000, to honor her invaluable contributions to children’s literature, Beverly Cleary was named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress.
This witty and warm author is truly an international favorite. Mrs. Cleary's books appear in over twenty countries in fourteen languages and her characters, including Henry Huggins, Ellen Tebbits, Otis Spofford, and Beezus and Ramona Quimby, as well as Ribsy, Socks, and Ralph S. Mouse, have delighted children for generations. There have been Japanese, Spanish, and Swedish television programs based on the Henry Huggins series, PBS-TV aired a ten-part series based on the Ramona stories, and one-hour adaptations of the three Ralph S. Mouse books have been shown on ABC-TV. All of Mrs. Cleary's adaptations still can be seen on cable television, and the Ramona adaptations are available in video stores. In addition, The Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden for Children featuring bronze statues of Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Ribsy, was recently opened in Portland, Oregon.
You can read more about Mrs. Cleary in her memoirs, A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet and by visiting www.beverlycleary.com.
More questions answered by Beverly Cleary:
1. What inspired you to create characters like Ramona and Beezus? Did you have a sibling or friend you had a similar relationship with?
Beezus and Ramona and Henry and the others are like the children I grew up with. I'd been a lonely child on our family farm in Yamhill, Oregon. When we moved to Portland, it was wonderful to have so many friends to play with. The street we lived on was like Klickitat Street in the books. In our neighborhood there were several boys like Henry and a dog like Ribsy on every block.
2. Ramona is so eager to please, yet life never works out the way she expects it to! What motivated you to write about being a pest? Did you ever feel like a pest the way Ramona does?
Ramona was little and she tagged along in the first books, and so the older children called her a pest. She gets into trouble, but it's not what she tries to do! Very often things don't go just the way Ramona expects them to. Does that ever happen to you?
3. What do you like best about being a writer?
I like working at home and not having to catch a bus, and I like working alone. I usually enjoy what I write. I think, If I don't enjoy it, why would anybody else want to read it? So if there's a part that isn't going well, I throw it out!
4. How do you write? Is there a certain time of the day that you like writing best? Do you listen to music while you write?
I like writing in the morning while baking bread. I used to bake bread while I wrote. I'd mix up the dough and sit down and start to write. After awhile the dough would rise and I'd punch it down and write some more. When the dough rose the second time, I'd put it in the oven and have the yeasty smell of bread as I typed. The cat resented the time I spent working and would come and sit on the keys to try and stop me!