According to HarperCollins, Cleary published her first book, Henry Huggins, in 1950 and more than 40 other books in the years that followed. Cleary’s books have sold more than 85 million copies and have been translated into 29 different languages.
Her protagonists were pests, treats, bullies and daydreamers, sometimes all at once. She accumulated memories of her youth and the struggles of children that she knew captured children’s views of the adult world, where fathers sometimes lost their jobs and mothers were sometimes raised on their own.
“In retrospect, she often said, ‘I had a happy life,’ and generations of children are lucky too – lucky to have the very real characters that Beverly Cleary created, including Henry Huggins, Ramona and Beezus Quimby and Ralph S. Mouse as true friends who helped shape her youth, “Murphy said.
Cleary was born Beverly Bunn on April 12, 1916 in McMinnville, Oregon, and spent her early years on a farm in the nearby town of Yamhill. When the Bunn family moved to Portland, Oregon, a school librarian encouraged young Beverly to write children’s books. The advice stayed with her during her studies at what is now Chaffey College in California, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Washington at Seattle, where she studied librarianship.
In Berkeley she met her husband Clarence Cleary and the two married in 1940.
“You can curl up with a book”
After college, she worked as a children’s librarian until she started writing. According to HarperCollins, Cleary’s dream of writing for children was rekindled when “a little boy looked at me rather wildly over the counter and said, ‘Where are the books about kids like us?'”
Her books with Henry Huggins, his dog Ribsy, and the children on Klickitat Street, which included Beezus and her younger sister, found great audiences with Ramona.
She received the National Book Award for Children’s Literature in 1981 for “Ramona and Her Mother” and the 1975 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the American Library Association for “a substantial and lasting contribution to children’s literature”.
“Dear Mr. Henshaw” won the 1984 John Newbery Medal for Most Outstanding Contribution to American Children’s Literature. The book is about a lonely boy who starts correspondence with an author of children’s books.
In 2000 she was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress and received the National Medal of Art from the National Endowment of the Arts in 2003.
“We at HarperCollins are also extremely fortunate to have worked with Beverly Cleary and enjoyed their sparkling joke,” said Murphy. “Her timeless books are an affirmation of her eternal connection to the joys, challenges, and successes that are part of every childhood.”
Her last book “Ramona’s World” was published in 1999, decades after the eternal brutal little sister first made her debut in “Henry Huggins”.
Her husband died in 2004. She is survived by her two children Malcolm and Marianne, three grandchildren and one great-grandson.
Up until the 1990s, Cleary said she expected children to read her books for decades to come.