Beverly Cleary turns 100 today! The creator of Ralph S. Mouse, Ellen Tebbits and Otis Spofford, and Henry Huggins and his dog Ribsy, she is most famous for giving the world Ramona Quimby and her sister Beezus. Recently, she talked about turning 100 and how old she thought she'd live to be on the Today Show. Cleary was a librarian, and got questions from young readers looking for stories of kids like them. She had felt the same way herself and decided to solve the problem herself.
Beezus and Ramona came out in 1955, but Ramona is a lot like any little kid you'd meet today. Ramona's misadventures, from putting whole eggs into a bowl and turning on the mixer because she wanted "to see what would happen" to squeezing out a whole tube of toothpaste, are the kinds of mischief kids get into.
I don't remember when I first read the books, but I was probably in 2nd or 3rd grade, around the same age as Ramona in her later books. I have two favorite stories from the books. Ramona putting her rubber doll, Bendix, in Beezus's birthday cake because she was imitating Hansel and Gretel is one. The other is of Ramona asking her father to turn on the dawnzer to have "lee light." I wasn't particularly prone to mischief as a kid, but I always wanted to have the most sophisticated vocabulary possible, and had a tendency to misunderstand things I heard. Concluding that "dawnzer" was fancy name for a lamp is exactly the kind of thing I would have done.
I actually think of the Quimbys more often than I'd expect. I think of Beezus when I sew, and of Picky-Picky when I carve a pumpkin. I was delighted the first time I visited Seattle to find out that Klickitat Street takes its name from an indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest. And I'm reminded of Ramona in her bunny ears headband when I see kids in animal hats or wearing costumes as everyday outfits. (Ramona Quimby: in the kid-fashion avant-garde.)
Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!
There have been a number of pieces about Beverly Cleary's birthday. Nicholas Kristof wrote a lovely column this Sunday in honor of Beverly Cleary and the importance of her work. And there's a nice essay in the New Yorker on how well her books capture the feelings of childhood.