By Hope Katz Gibbs
Editor and Publisher
Be Inkandescent Magazine
“RAMONA QUIMBY WAS nine years old. She had brown hair, brown eyes, and no cavities,” writes beloved children’s book author Beverly Cleary in the first chapter of her bestseller, Ramona’s World. It chronicles the day our heroine meets her new baby sister, Roberta.
This is one of more than three dozen books penned by Cleary in the more than five decades that she has been drawing kids into the adventures of her characters. Her first book, Henry Huggins, was published in 1950; her last was Ramona’s World in 1999. Klickitat Street, where several of them live, is based on her own childhood neighborhood.
Inspiring kids to love reading, especially struggling readers like herself as a child, has been a lifelong mission for the woman who grew up on a farm in Yamhill, Oregon—a town so small it had no library.
“Until I was in third grade, I thought of reading as something I just had to do in school,” Cleary says. “In the fifth or sixth grade we had to write a story, and the teacher told me I should write children’s books when I grew up.”
Children everywhere are better for Cleary receiving such sage career advice. Prior to her career as an author, Cleary worked as a librarian, which is how she first encountered children who had trouble finding books that captured their imaginations.
That’s when she decided to start writing books about kids young readers would recognize as being like themselves.
On April 12, 2010—the day Cleary turned 94—her love of books was celebrated during National Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) Day, sponsored by the National Education Association, the Parent Teacher Association, HarperCollins Children’s Books and, of course, Ramona Quimby (www.dropeverythingandread.com).
Cleary recently took some time to share her thoughts and words of wisdom with Be Inkandescent Magazine.
Be Inkandescent Magazine: Of the dozens of books you have written, do you have a favorite?
Beverly Cleary: I don’t have a favorite title, but I have favorite characters, including Henry, Ramona, Ralph and all the rest of them. My least favorite books went straight into the wastebasket. If I don’t enjoy writing them, how can I expect anybody to enjoy reading them?
Be Inkandescent Magazine: Which of your characters is most similar to you?
Beverly Clearly: People tell me that I was Ramona. I don’t agree. I was much more Ellen Tebbitts, which is really quite autobiographical. I was also quite a bit like the mouse who rode the motorcycle, not that I rode motorcycles, but, like Ralph, I hoped for adventure.
Be Inkandescent Magazine: We understand that some of your characters are hitting the big screen this summer in a movie entitled Ramona and Beezus. Did you help write the script?
Beverly Clearly: I was consulted about the scripts and rejected a few of them, and I made suggestions about the final script, but my involvement ended there. I am excited about the movie.
Be Inkandescent Magazine: Do you still write? Is there anything you wish you had written about, but didn’t get to?
Beverly Clearly: I no longer write. I wish I had written about Ramona in 5th grade, but didn’t wish hard enough to actually do it.
Be Inkandescent Magazine: What was your favorite book when you were a child?
Beverly Clearly: As a child, my favorite book was Dandelion Cottage, by Caroll Watson Rankin. Every time I brought it home from the library, my mother would say, “Not Dandelion Cottage again.” I’d also read any book of fairy tales. As an adult, I have no favorite titles, but I especially enjoy autobiography.
Be Inkandescent Magazine: Where do you find inspiration and ideas for your stories?
Beverly Clearly: Any place. Every place. From memories, observations, newspapers, overheard conversations. I’m an unrepentant eavesdropper, especially in restaurants.
Be Inkandescent Magazine: If you could tell anything to the millions of children who have enjoyed your books, what would it be?
Be Inkandescent Magazine: I think I would say, “Don’t stop now. Go ahead! Be readers all of your lives. And don’t forget, librarians and teachers can help you find the right books to read.”