Beverly Cleary

by Mrs. French

Early Childhood

I was born on April 12, 1916, as Beverly Bunn. My great-grandparents were pioneers who drove across the U.S. in wagon trains to settle what is now Oregon. Whenever I complained as a child that anything was difficult for me, my parents would say, "Remember your pioneer ancestors," and encourage me to work harder.

I grew up in a little town called Yamhill on a big, old farm that had been passed down through my father's family. Yamhill was so small that we did not even have a library until my mother raised money to create one in a room over a bank. I was an only child, but I had a lot of extended family in Yamhill. Although my parents worked very hard and we never had enough money, I loved everything about my life. When I was 6-years-old, though, my father found someone to rent the farm and we packed up and moved to Portland, the capital city of Oregon.

Portland

In Portland, I started to go to elementary school. I had some teachers that I loved and others that I did not. In 1st grade, I struggled a lot with reading and was put in the lowest reading group. My teacher was very strict and made me write with my right hand. Much to my mother's disappointment, I hated reading and would only read in school when required to. With the help of some more encouraging teachers, I finally improved my reading. By 3rd grade, I had caught up with my classmates, and I began to enjoy reading. I spent most of my free time reading and going to the library, but was always disappointed that there were not more books about girls like me or the kids in my school and neighborhood.

My mother and I did not always get along well, but she did encourage me in my writing. Most important, though, was Miss Smith, our school librarian. She encouraged me to use my imagination in my writing and helped me believe that I might some day write stories for children. The first writing I was ever paid for was in 4th grade. I won a writing contest with an essay about beavers and was awarded $2. The sponsor of the contest admitted that I was the only one who had entered, but I was not discouraged. I learned that the most important thing about writing was to try. I continued to publish stories and enter contests throughout my school years. After graduating high school, I moved to California to live with my aunt so that I could attend community school. Later on, I attended and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley.

My Stories

I had always wanted to read stories about kids like me and later, as a librarian, I knew that the students I read to also wanted stories that they could connect with. My mother had always said that the best stories were simple and funny. I used these ideas as my guide. My first book, Henry Huggins, was published in 1950 and was based on the kids I grew up with. Here are just a few of the connections between my real life and my books:
  • Growing up in Portland, I lived a few blocks from Klickitat Street. This is the name of the street where Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby live.
  • My friends and I used to walk around our neighborhood on coffee can stilts yelling "Pieface!" at each other (just like Ramona). We also played Brick Factory, spending hours pounding bricks into dust.
  • Also like Ramona, I liked whipped cream and disliked spelling. I never understood silent letters and the endless spelling rules. Why, for example, would you need two t's for the word "kitty" when one t makes the sound perfectly well?

Other interesting facts:

  • During the Depression, my family could not afford to buy vanilla. We had almond extract (which was cheaper) and used it to flavor everything. To this day, I dislike the taste of almond.
  • The first time I got lost in a story was in 7th grade, writing an assignment for Miss Smith. It was raining outside and I wrote much more than was required (and loved every minute of it!) To this day, rain makes me want to write, and I have written most of my books in the winter.
  • I won the 1984 Newberry Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw. I also won Newberry Honors for Ramona and Her Father (1978) and Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (1982). I have published more than 30 books and my books have been translated into more than 20 different languages.
  • I married my husband Clarence Cleary in 1940 and we had two children (twins). I am now 97 years old and live in Carmel, California.

Works Cited:

Cleary, Beverly, A Girl from Yamhill, 1988
http://www.beverlycleary.com
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beverly_Cleary
photo of young Beverly: http://www.bookpage.com
photo of teenage Beverly: http://bluebook.state.or.us/notable/notcleary.htm
photo of adult Beverly: http://www.opb.org