Cleary published her first book, “Henry Huggins,” in 1950, and more than 40 other books in years following, according to Harper Collins. Cleary’s books have sold more than 85 million copies and were translated into 29 different languages.
Her protagonists were pests, goody-goodies, bullies and daydreamers, sometimes all at once. She mined memories of her youth and the struggles of kids she knew to capture children’s views of the adult world, where fathers sometimes lost their jobs and mothers sometimes parented alone.
“Looking back, she’d often say, ‘I’ve had a lucky life,’ and generations of children count themselves lucky too — lucky to have the very real characters Beverly Cleary created, including Henry Huggins, Ramona and Beezus Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse, as true friends who helped shape their growing-up years,” Murphy said.
Cleary was born Beverly Bunn in McMinnville, Oregon, on April 12, 1916, 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 stuck with her through her studies at what’s now Chaffey College in California, the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied librarianship.
At Berkeley, she met her husband, Clarence Cleary, and the two were married in 1940.
‘You can curl up with a book’
After college, she worked as a children’s librarian until she began to write. According to Harper Collins, Cleary’s dream of writing for children was rekindled when “a little boy faced me rather ferociously across the circulation desk and said: ‘Where are the books about kids like us?'”
Her books featuring Henry Huggins, his dog, Ribsy, and the children on Klickitat Street that included Beezus and her younger sister, Ramona found a large audience with young readers.
She was awarded the National Book Award for children’s fiction in 1981 for “Ramona and Her Mother,” and in 1975, she won the American Library Association’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for “a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.”
“Dear Mr. Henshaw” won the 1984 John Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. The book is about a lonely boy who strikes up a correspondence with a children’s book author.
In 2000, she was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress, and in 2003, she received the National Medal of Art from the National Endowment of the Arts.
“We at HarperCollins also feel extremely lucky to have worked with Beverly Cleary and to have enjoyed her sparkling wit,” Murphy said. “Her timeless books are an affirmation of her everlasting connection to the pleasures, challenges, and triumphs that are part of every childhood,”
Her last book,” Ramona’s World,” was published in 1999, decades after the perpetual bratty little sister first debuted in “Henry Huggins.”
Her husband died in 2004. She is survived by their two children, Malcolm and Marianne, three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
Into her 90s, Cleary said she expected children would still read her books for decades to come.
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