Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Beverly Cleary, centenarian

Today is Beverly Cleary's centenary, and she's still around to celebrate it. Time to reminisce.

I first read most of her books in my teens and 20s, already far older than the target audience. But I liked them, and still do. My first encounter was with Henry Huggins, but I found myself identifying more with Ramona Quimby. I wasn't much of a Henry-like boy - in particular I didn't have a dog, and didn't want one, while Ramona had a cat - but I could see myself in Ramona. Ramona was a little girl who wanted very much to be good but didn't know how, and often got in trouble for trying. That really resonated with my earlier childhood. I liked the way Ramona grows up, a year at a time in each book, from 4 to 10, her character carefully calibrated by the author for each book, and the spaces and changes between them diligently accounted for. I liked, also, the way that Ramona's personal problems interact with her family's issues, principally monetary concerns. They're serious, thoughtful books, fully mature for the age each portrays, and with appealing characters.

Cleary started out as a children's librarian, did you know that? At the age of about 65, she paid a visit to her library school alma mater at the University of Washington. I was a student there then, and came with all the other students to hear her give a talk. What she said amounted to "Don't forget the children!" I've tried not to. I did get to introduce myself to her as a fan.

Decades later, I was cheered by the look of awe on the face of a young girl (daughter of friends) when, seeing a Ramona book in her hands, I told her that I'd actually met Beverly Cleary. Matched only, some years earlier, by the look of awe on the face of a young nephew when I told him that I'd met Bruce Coville. (I'd been on a panel with him at some con.)

Here's an article on Cleary's teen girl novels, which I haven't read. But, as the article points out, they work on the same principles as the Ramona books, just as appropriately changed for a later stage of growth into maturity.

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