Beloved children’s book author Beverly Cleary has died at the age of 104. According to NPR, Cleary’s publisher HarperCollins confirmed her death, saying she died March 25 in Carmel, California. Her cause of death was not disclosed.
HarperCollins President and Publisher Suzanne Murphy said in a statement: “We are saddened by the passing of Beverly Cleary, one of the most beloved children’s authors of all time. 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. We at HarperCollins also feel extremely lucky to have worked with Beverly Cleary and to have enjoyed her sparkling wit. Her timeless books are an affirmation of her everlasting connection to the pleasures, challenges, and triumphs that are part of every childhood.”
Cleary was born in Oregon on April 12, 1916. The American Library Association now celebrates April 12 as “Drop Everything and Read,” or D.E.A.R. day, in honor of Cleary; she first introduced the concept in her beloved novel “Ramona Quimby, Age 8.”
Cleary died just weeks before her 105th birthday.
Here’s what you need to know about Beverly Cleary:
1. Growing Up, Cleary Learned to Love Books From Her Mother
According to her website, “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 young Beverly learned to love books.”
But when she started school in the city, “she found herself in the grammar school’s low reading circle,” according to her website. After struggling for a few years, she “conquered reading” and was even encouraged by her school librarian to write books for children. “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,” according to her website.
In an interview with Reading Rockets, Cleary remarked, “When I was in grammar school, I sometimes felt that school didn’t want us to read, because there were long questions after everything we read, and we had to write book reviews and give the theme of the book. … That was the question I hated the most: ‘What was the theme of this book?’ I just wanted to read a book and enjoy it. And I think that’s what children should do.”
2. Cleary’s Beloved Characters Were Inspired by Her Personal Life Experiences
— HarperCollins (@HarperCollins) March 26, 2021
Cleary’s website revealed that “when children ask Mrs. Cleary where she finds her ideas, she replies, ‘From my own experience and from the world around me.'”
Reading Rockets asked Cleary where she got her inspiration for the characters that have come to life in her books. “From my own childhood, from the childhood of others that I hear about, sometimes from newspapers,” she answered. “The story of Henry Huggins and the Bubble Gum came from a newspaper clipping. Uh, sometimes they just seem to come — come out of thin air, and sometimes — well, with — with Dear Mr. Henshaw, two little boys who didn’t know one another asked me to write about a boy whose parents were divorced. And I had never thought about it, but I said I’d — give it a try.”
In her 1988 memoir, “A Girl from Yamhill,” Cleary reflected on the impact her childhood had on her work as an author. She said, “I’m just lucky. I do have very clear memories of childhood. I find that many people don’t, but I’m just very fortunate.”
The description for the memoir teases that within its pages, “Beverly Cleary tells a more personal story—her story—of what adolescence was like. In warm but honest detail, Beverly describes life in Oregon during the Great Depression, including her difficulties in learning to read, and offers a slew of anecdotes that were, perhaps, the inspiration for some of her beloved stories.”
3. Cleary Was the Mother to Twin Children
Cleary is survived by her two adult children, twins Malcolm James and Marianne Elizabeth Cleary. She is also survived by her three grandchildren and one great-grandchild. She was predeceased by her husband, Clarence Cleary. According to HarperCollins, at the time of Cleary’s death, her family said they “would like to thank her doctor, Dr. Richard King, and the health center staff at the Carmel Valley Manor.”
Cleary, unlike her children, did not have siblings growing up; she was an only child. According to Oregon Live, which called Cleary an “Oregon treasure,” Cleary opened up during her lifetime about the struggles her family went through during the Depression. She said, “Portland during the Depression was grim. My father being out of work was just devastating. I well remember all these gaunt-looking men coming around to the house and my mother having nothing to give them.”
4. Cleary Was a Librarian Before She Gained Fame as an Author
“Children should learn that reading is pleasure, not just something that teachers make you do in school.”
Thank you, Beverly Cleary for creating the stories that so many of us enjoyed reading as children. Rest in peace. pic.twitter.com/l11b70kSj6
— Barnes & Noble (@BNBuzz) March 26, 2021
Prior to becoming a beloved author, Cleary fostered her connection to books and children as a librarian. Her work as a librarian followed in her mother’s footsteps. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, Cleary went on to specialize in librarianship at the University of Washington, Seattle, according to The New York Times.
While working as a librarian in Yakima, Washington, Cleary was struck by the number of children asking her for books about children “just like us,” and decided to start writing them herself. She was brought back to her youth, and the memory of when her local librarian first suggested she should write for boys and girls when she grew up.
Cleary authored more than 50 books and was honored for her work with the Newbery Medal in 1984 for “Dear Mr. Henshaw,” the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for “Ramona and Her Mother,” the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from the American Library Association in 1975, and was named a 2000 Library of Congress “Living Legend,” among numerous other honors and prizes.
5. Cleary’s ‘Ramona & Beezus’ Book Series Was Turned Into Both a TV Show & a Film
When Cleary’s beloved book series about sisters Ramona and Beezus was brought to the big screen, Disney star Selena Gomez was cast as big sister Beezus, while Emmy-nominated actress Joey King had her breakout role as Ramona. When asked about what the part meant to her, King told Seventeen at the time, “It is a huge role! She has a huge imagination and a big personality. I was very excited to find out that I was going to be Ramona because she’s been around for over 50 years. [When I found out that I had gotten the role] my mom and I cried with tears of joy!”
Of her decision to write Ramona as a character and why she believes Ramona resonated with such a large audience of young readers, Cleary told Reading Rockets, “She does not learn to be a better girl. I was so annoyed with the books in my childhood, because children always learned to be better children, and in my experience, they didn’t. They just grew, and so I started Ramona, and — and she has never reformed.”
RIP Beverly Cleary. Millions of girls saw themselves in Ramona Quimby. Thank you from all the “pests” out there.
— Jill Biden (@FLOTUS) March 26, 2021
As news of Cleary’s death spread, first lady Jill Biden mourned the loss on Twitter, writing, “RIP Beverly Cleary. Millions of girls saw themselves in Ramona Quimby. Thank you from all the “pests” out there.”