Today is Beverly Cleary’s 90th birthday. She was born in Yamhill, OR in 1916 and lived there until it was time for her to start school. She started writing books when she was working at librarian in Portland and little boy asked her why there weren’t any books about kids like him. She went home and started to write one. 39 books later, including two volumes of autobiographies, here we are.
She is a member of the long list of children’s authors who had an impact on my growing up years*. I remember what a thrill it was when we moved to Portland to discover that I was heading for her home town, and the setting of many of her books. I wasn’t so much of a fan of Henry Huggins, but I loved Ramona. I still get a kick out of the fact that my parents live three houses down from Klickitat Street, one of the main streets in the Ramona books.
When I was 13, I actually got to meet Beverly Cleary. I was into acting in those days, and had gotten myself involved with a community theater (Portland Civic Theater which sadly no longer exists). I spent the year of 8th grade in a song and dance troupe at that theater, and we were all recruited to be the neighborhood children in the theater’s production of Ramona Quimby: Age 8. I got to miss school for two weeks, as we did two shows a day, five days a week for school groups, as well as evening and weekend shows. It was my one little taste of professional acting, and I loved it.
Beverly Cleary came to the opening night of that show, and met specially with all the children who were in the cast before the curtain went up. I remember standing in a circle around her, while she talked quietly with the Anthea, the girl who was playing Ramona. We all waited silently until they were done with their private talk. When they were done, Anthea turned to the rest of us, trying to be professional and keep her potential tears of nervousness and excitement inside and not doing a very good job. I don’t remember a word of what Beverly Cleary said, I was so stunned and awed to be in her presence. After a few more minutes, she was done and we were all sent back downstairs to wait for the show to begin.
Today is also “Drop Everything and Read” Day (DEAR), in honor of Beverly’s birthday. So if you have a moment, drop what you are doing and go spend fifteen or twenty minutes reading a good book. It’s the very best way I can think of to celebrate her birthday.
*The list, from the top of my head, also includes: Norma Klein, Judy Blume, Jane Yolen, LM Montgomery, Maud Hart Lovelace, Gertrude Chandler Warner, Joan Lowry Nixon, Lois Lenski, Ann M. Martin (I was a sucker for the Babysitters’ Club) and Margaret Mahy. There are more that belong on this list (and I know that I had to have read some male authors while I was growing up), but that’s all I can conjure up right now.