Millions of people lost a friend they’d had since childhood last week.

Beloved author Beverly Cleary passed away. She was 104.

Cleary was the creator of the Ramona books, eight volumes following the adventures of Ramona Quimby.

I loved these books as a child. I had no idea they were written in 1955. I guess some of the trials and tribulations of childhood are truly timeless. I often identified with Ramona and went on adventures with her as she grew up, and I took her side when she had scrapes with her older sister Beezus. Older sisters can be so unreasonable sometimes.

Cleary was a librarian. But when a young patron asked, “Where are the books about the kids like us?” she began writing.

“There weren’t any books about kids like them. So when I sat down to write, I found myself writing about the sort of children I had grown up with,” Cleary said in a 1993 interview with the Associated Press.

Her first book, published in 1950, was Henry Huggins, a boy who finds adventure with his dog, Ribsy. She introduces many of the characters that would later return in other series, including beloved Ramona.

Henry Higgins sparked five more novels. Cleary’s work was translated into more than 10 languages and distributed around the world.

Ramona spawned eight books, including Ramona and Her Mother, which won Cleary the National Book Award.

She won many awards throughout her career, most recognizing her contribution to children’s literature. 

Cleary had trouble in reading as a young student. She was ill much of her first-grade year, when so many critical early literacy skills are developed, and she said her teacher would snap a steel-tipped pointer across the back of her hands.

“I had chicken pox, smallpox and tonsillitis in the first grade and nobody seemed to think that had anything to do with my reading trouble,” she told the AP. “I just got mad and rebellious.”

By the third grade, she was a successful reader, spending much of her childhood with books or going to and from the library. This once-struggling reader had determined she would write children’s stories by the time she was in middle school. But first, she completed her education, studying library science at the University of Washington.

Thankfully, early struggles in reading didn’t hold Cleary back. And millions of children benefited from her creativity and her compassion. 

Right now, we’re hearing a lot about literacy and early childhood reading skills. That’s because so much of our children’s education depends on them learning to read and to interpret what they read.

But reading is more than just informational. It’s inspirational. And authors like Cleary have helped inspire countless children with characters we can all relate to.

Thanks for the good times, Ms. Cleary!

 

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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