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Remembering the Life of Beverly Cleary

By Tracie Egelston • April 12, 2021

April 12 of this year would have been Beverly Cleary's 105th birthday. It is also the day we celebrate D.E.A.R. Day, better known as Drop Everything And Read Day! A day started by Beverly Cleary herself. On this day, families are encouraged to take at least 30 minutes to put aside all distractions and enjoy books together. It has since grown to the whole month of April. This special day was designed to remind people of any age to make reading a priority with the hopes that this activity with continue all year long.

D.E.A.R. Day is extra special this year in my opinion. It gives us a chance to look back on Beverly Cleary's remarkable career. Beverly Cleary was born on April 12, 1916 in Oregon. She was an only child and lived on a farm until she was six years old, when her family moved to the big city of Portland. What is fascinating is Beverly struggled to read early in school. But by the time she was in the sixth grade, her teacher suggested she should become a children's author due to her reading and writing skills.

After studying English at the University of California, Berkeley, she went on to the University of Washington where she received a second bachelor's degree in library science. She was a librarian from 1940 to 1945. She also worked at the famous Sather Gate Book Shop in Berkeley prior to deciding to become a full-time writer.

She knew she wanted to write books with characters that children could relate to. And thus, Henry Huggins was born in 1950. This was her first chapter book about Henry, his dog Ribsy, his neighbor Beezus and her now infamous sister, Ramona. At first the book was rejected, but once she added Beezus and Ramona Morrow picked up the series immediately.

My mother was an elementary school librarian and I remember sitting in these big cushions she had in a reading area, pouring over Ramona, Henry, Ralph the Mouse, and Socks. I seriously wanted a pet mouse who could ride a motorcycle! I wanted to be neighbors with the Quimby sisters and Henry. And who didn't want a loyal dog like Ribsy? Dear Mr. Henshaw was one of my favorites as an adolescent. It was very easy to relate to the main character Leigh as he struggled with his parents' separation and growing up. All of Cleary's characters were relatable. They were either just like you, a classmate, a friend or a sibling. And they were laugh out loud funny!

Beverly Clearly is one of the most successful authors of all time. 91 million copies of her books have been sold worldwide since that first Henry Huggins book in 1950 and have been published into 25 different languages. She is the recipient of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, was named a Library of Congress Living Legend in 2000, won a Newberry Award for Dear Mr. Henshaw, as well as Newberry Honors for Ramona and her Father and Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Ramona and her Mother won a National Book Award. In the list of the 100 Best Children's Books, Cleary holds 3 spots: #94 with Ramona and her Father, #89 for The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and #3 for Ramona the Pest. Glad to see Ramona's parents getting some acknowledgement...oh what they went through with her. It made me laugh as a child and now I understand their point of view as a parent!

Some of Cleary's lesser-known characters are just as relatable. Jane in Fifteen is a typical boy-crazy teenager. It's a lot milder than most of today's love stories in the young adult genre, but Jane still felt what most girls feel with their first crush. Emily in Emily's Runaway Imagination, was always getting herself in trouble. Much like myself at the same age, it was never really on purpose. In Muggie Maggie, which is one of her later books, Maggie reminds me of my own stubborn, but smart third grade daughter. Cleary even wrote 3 Leave it to Beaver novels to tie in with the hit TV show.

If you want to know about Beverly Cleary in her own words, she did write two memoirs, A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet. In My Own Two Feet she covers her life up to 1949 when she wrote Henry Huggins. I will let you read it for yourself to see what the original title of that book was! It's an excellent memoir.

Pick up a Beverly Cleary book on April 12. Read it for the nostalgia, read it to your children, have your children read it to you or by themselves. Read her books because they are just that good. Her characters are timeless, funny, and heart-warming. They are real life characters who we can all learn a thing or two from, young and old. Reading keeps you young. Beverly Clearly was still a kid at heart at the age of almost 105. She is already missed greatly. I can't wait to hear stories from schools and libraries this year on how they are celebrating D.E.A.R. Day! If you're celebrating, share them with us and tag @Thriftbooks!

About the author: Tracie Egelston is a Collectible Receiver at Thriftbooks. Before joining the team, she previously grew up in libraries, where her mother worked and cultivated her lifelong love of reading. Working in libraries herself as an adult, she was able to pass this love on to her two children, one of whom works as a Sorter for Thriftbooks.

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