A warm ‘thank you’ to Beverly Cleary, my childhood inspiration

Photo of Cleary
Cleary Family/Creative Commons
Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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When I was a little girl, I loved to read books just because they had a pretty cover. I usually stuck to stories about mermaids and fairies and magic. Anything with pink and glitter on the front page was immediately in my cart. I still remember the dread I felt whenever I picked up a new book at a book fair and then realized I forgot my money. Yeah, those days were the worst.

I remember being drawn to one book, in particular, titled, “Socks,” which depicts the life of a cat who looks like he has socks for feet and lives with Mr. and Mrs. Bricker. They rescue him from a box, and he gets himself into all kinds of trouble while he lives with his new family. For the longest time after that, I daydreamed of finding a box of cats myself. I would brainstorm about different pet names and chase after every stray I saw on the street. I even wondered what each cat could be thinking about and whether or not they had a secret life we humans were unaware of. Maybe I picked it up because I thought the cat on the cover was funny, or maybe I only got it because the yellow of the background was my favorite color at the time. Regardless, I decided I wanted to read it, and looking back, I’m so very glad that I did.

But since I was so small at the time, I never felt the desire to learn about the authors I was reading. It wasn’t until two weeks ago that I found out “Socks” was written by a woman named Beverly Cleary. Unfortunately, she passed away. I had no idea that “Socks,” one of my favorite books growing up, was written by this woman, someone who went to UC Berkeley and studied the same thing I am.

So many people have read “Ramona and Beezus.” She wrote that series, and I never even knew about it.

Once I found out that Cleary had passed away, I decided I had to go back and learn more about her. I owed it to her, after all, since she was a big part of my childhood.

She was born April 16, 1916; she died March 25, 2021. As I mentioned earlier, she was a UC Berkeley alumna. Cleary studied English and then moved onto the University of Washington, where she got a second degree in library science. For many people, choosing what they want to study can be a difficult time. However, Cleary’s passions were deeply rooted in her childhood years.

Despite her love for books, Cleary struggled a lot when it came to reading as a child. Not only did she have a low reading level, but her hometown of Yamhill hardly had any books for her to read. Instead, Cleary had to request them from state libraries. However, it was Cleary’s determination that helped her improve. When she moved to Portland when she was 6 years old, she spent a lot of time in libraries and became proficient at reading. One of the workers there even told her she was going to be a children’s book author.

But before Cleary was a writer, she worked as a librarian in Washington and later Oakland. She even eloped with her husband and had twin babies. After 1945, Cleary started publishing books. Her first ever story was titled “Henry Higgins” and included fun themes of friendship and adventure. Most of her books followed this trend. Cleary strived to write books that would make children happy. Most of the time they took place in Portland. But a lot of her other books were far from realistic, including stories of mice who could ride motorcycles. Cleary wanted to write books that would make children happy and laugh. This is why she created iconic characters such as Ramona and Beezus, whose sibling feuds still make me chuckle — and I’m almost 21!

But a lot of other people recognized Beverly Cleary’s talent as well. In total, Cleary published 35 children’s books and received lots of praise for them. Some of the awards she earned include the John Newbery Medal for “Dear Mr. Henshaw” in 1984 and the American Library Association’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Award in 1975. She even had one of her most popular series, the aforementioned “Ramona and Beezus,” turned into a movie starring Selena Gomez and Joey King. Additionally, she was given named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in 2000. People such as actress Amy Poehler and writer Kate DiCamillo loved her work so much that they came together and collaborated on new forewords when Cleary turned 100 years old. Cleary’s works were also translated into different languages around the world.

Although Beverly Cleary is no longer with us today, I will continue telling people about her. She made my childhood magical and was a big contributing factor to my own love for books. One day, I hope to become just as successful with my writing as she was — not to mention how much of an inspiration she must have been for her audience. After all, Cleary not only wrote books because she loved them, but she did so to create relatable stories for the children reading them.

Even if I didn’t have crazy siblings or mischievous pet cats, and although my dogs were pretty hyper, Cleary opened up different worlds for me and so many other people who read her works. I might have picked up one of her books because of the cover, but I stayed for the witty dialogue and fun-loving characters. Her stories served as a form of escapism for me and allowed my imagination to run wild. Her books also motivated me to keep reading and come up with characters and stories of my own. A lot of people think that children’s books are just for entertainment, and maybe, at one point, I did too, but Cleary’s inspired me to keep reading and creating.

Thank you, Beverly Cleary, for being a big part of my childhood and an even bigger part of my current career. Your wonderful stories will never be forgotten.

Contact Pamela Hasbun at [email protected]