About two weeks ago Beverly Cleary turned 100 years old. This little nugget may have escaped you. Unless, of course, you are routinely part of activities in an early elementary school sort of setting. Or maybe if you're slightly obsessed with children's literature.
I wanted to write a post about Beverly Cleary on her actual birthday, but it wasn't meant to be. Mostly because I was truly unable to think about her celebrating 100 years without getting a lump in my throat and having the letters on the screen go blurry. You see, I adore Beverly Cleary.
I can understand that maybe, just maybe, her books are right for everyone. But I think it is a rare soul who isn't at least a little charmed by Ramona Quimby and her family; or a child who hasn't smiled at a toy motorcycle, thinking of Mr. Ralph S. Mouse. It's hard to not be impressed with someone who could write stories that still resonate as she turns 100, many of which were published more than 50 years ago.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that Beverly Cleary's books have touched all parts of my life.
Ramona came into my life in first grade, when our librarian read us Ramona the Pest. Over the years I heard other Beverly Cleary books read aloud, either by our librarian or by my classroom teachers. By second grade I was reading and rereading every Beverly Cleary book available in our teeny-tiny library. They were the old fashioned library versions, bound in pebbly orange or pea green covers. When book orders came into my life I ordered as many Beverly Cleary books as possible, wanting my very own copies to read and read again. As I child I identified with rule-follower Beezus, but got such a thrill reading about the scrapes Ramona got into. Thanks to Beverly Cleary I was able to vicariously experience the rush of pulling another child's hair, refusing to do school work, or - gasp - coloring in a library book!
Time passed and I became a student teacher and shared the Beverly Cleary's Muggie Maggie with a group of second graders as they began the daunting task of learning to write in cursive.
Eventually I had my own classes full of fresh-faced first graders and together we read many Beverly Cleary titles. Often the Ralph stories and always Ramona the Brave. While the emotional core of the stories hold up very well, there are a few references that need some explaining, which always ended in interesting conversations with my students. In one of the books there is an incident in which Henry Huggins' dog, Ribsy, gets locked in the Quimby's bathroom. One year I was teaching at a fairly affluent school and none of the children could figure out why it mattered that the dog was in stuck in there and no one else could enter. It never occurred to them that a house might have only one bathroom! When I told them that Matt and I lived in a house with one bathroom (true at the time), one of the students gasped and said, "Mrs. M, are you poor?!" I will never forget the horrified look on her face. I hope she remembers some of the conversation that followed.
The greatest joy, however, has probably been introducing Beverly Cleary's books to my own children. The relatively obscure Ellen Tebbits is the title that has taken up a special place in Harper's heart. Michael, being of prime Beverly Cleary enjoying age, is still figuring out which one will be his favorite.
It's a safe bet that I'll be sending some titles along to my nephew in a few years. And sooner or later, some other lucky child is going to rediscover the stash of Beverly Cleary books on my shelves and they will delight another generation.
I've pulled some of my favorite videos and articles from the days leading up to, and including, Mrs. Cleary's birthday and I'm going to link to them here. If you are even half as fond of her as I am, do your self a favor and enjoy them:
The Today Show interview:
7 Things You Didn't Know from pbs.org:
11 Things You Didn't Know from Woman's Day:
100 Years Surrounded by Books form The Washington Post:
To Beverly Cleary with love, from other children's authors:
(I lost it when Judy Blume spoke...)
Beverly Cleary turning 100 from npr:
And then this 1/2 hour jewel from Oregon Public Broadcasting:
Thank you, Beverly Cleary, for your wonderful contributions to the world of children's literature. My life, and that of so many others, is richer for it.