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Beverly Cleary

Researcher: Christen Shaw


Beverly Bunn was born in McMinnville, Oregon on April 12, 1916. She spent her early childhood on a farm in Yamhill, Oregon, a town so small it didn't even have a library. Beverly's love for books began when her mother made an agreement with the State Library to have books sent to their town and to act as the local librarian.

Beverly's family moved to Portland, Oregon when she was old enough to attend school. She had trouble reading, and found herself in the low reading group in her class. However, she worked hard and conquered the problem by the time she was in third grade. Since then, she has always been sympathetic towards children who have difficulty reading.

From third grade on, Beverly spent most of her time in the library. At eight years old, she found herself wondering why there weren't more funny books to read. She dreamed of being a writer some day and making up those funny stories – stories about kids like her and the other kids she knew.

In 1934 she moved to California and attended college, where she met her husband, Clarence Cleary. She graduated junior college in Ontario, California and the University of California Berkeley. She continued her education at the School of Librarianship at the University of Washington in Seattle. When she began working as a librarian as the children's librarian in Yakima, Washington in 1940, she found more inspiration in the children she met. She wanted to write books to which these kids could relate. She continued to work there until she and her husband moved back to California.

Her husband encouraged her to write a book.  Beverly told him that she couldn't because they didn't have ant sharp pencils in the house. The next day he bought her a pencil sharpener, and her writing career was under way.

"I wanted to read funny stories about the sort of children I knew, and I decided that someday when I grew up I would write them,” said Cleary. Her childhood memories of growing up on a farm and her own school days helped inspire her many books. Cleary's imagination has brought the world many memorable characters such as Ramona Quimby and her sister Beazus, Henry Huggins and Ellen Tibbits.

Her twins (a boy and a girl who are now all grown up) were another inspiration for her stories. Cleary was encouraged to write one book in particular in response to her own son's lack of interest in reading. He wanted to read about motorcycles but found all of the books too hard to read. The Mouse and the Motorcycle, written by Cleary, solved this problem for her son.

Throughout her career, Beverly Cleary has won many awards for her writing, including the 1975 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award and the Newbery Medal in 1984 for Dear Mr. Henshaw. Two of her books have been named Newbery Honor Books, Ramona and Her Father in 1978 and Ramona Quimby, Age 8 in 1982.

In 1995, Beverly Cleary received a different kind of honor. On October 13, the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden opened in Portland, Oregon's Grant Park. It features two fountains for children to play in and life size bronze sculptures of Ramona, Henry, and Ribsy, not to mention it is only four blocks away from the real Klickitat Street! Her greatest reward in writing, however, is not the special awards she receives. Cleary's biggest thrill is hearing about children who wouldn't read before, but now love to read... because of her books.

Every writer works differently. Cleary is no exception. She has a great deal of difficulty in starting on a project. Cleary spends time staring out the window and chewing pencils or sitting in a chair trying to get inspired. "Once I get the first draft pinned down on paper, the fun begins. Because then I can cross out and revise and shape, and I love doing that," said Cleary.

The wonderful thing about being published is that books written by that person will live on forever. It is comforting to know that Beverly Cleary's books will continue to inspire children to read for years to come.

Bibliographic Citation Format:

Author's last name, first name, middle initial. "Title of biography." SPECTRUM Home & School Magazine. [http://www.incwell.com/Spectrum.html] (date accessed). © K. B. Shaw

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