Beverly Cleary was born Beverly Bunn on April 12th, 1916, in McMinnville, Oregon, and lived on a farm in Yamhill until her family moved to Portland when she was school-age. She was a slow reader, which she blamed on illness and a mean-spirited first-grade teacher who disciplined her by snapping a steel-tipped pointer across the back of her hands.
Trained as a children’s librarian in Washington state, Cleary didn’t begin writing books until her early 30s when she wrote “Henry Huggins,” which centred on a young boy who never met a challenge he didn’t like.
Soon Cleary gave Henry neighbours, and one set would prove her most enduring set of characters: Beatrice “Beezus” and Ramona Quimby. Beezus and Ramona inhabit a down-home, wholesome setting on Klickitat Street — a real street in Portland, Oregon, the city where Cleary spent much of her youth. When we first meet Ramona, she is four years old and a holy terror, clearly the alpha of the two and capable of causing havoc. Ramona is the very opposite of the “not-to-be-heard child”, instead she is intent on announcing her presence and making as much noise as possible.
Cleary herself was an only child but said Ramona wasn’t a mirror. “I was a well-behaved little girl, not that I wanted to be,” she said in an interview with The Guardian. In all, there were eight books on Ramona.
Eventually, Cleary quit writing, saying she felt it was important for writers to know when to stop, she even went as far as getting rid of her typewriter.
In 2000, Cleary was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress. In 2003, she was chosen as one of the winners of the National Medal of Arts and met President George W. Bush. She is also lauded in literary circles far and wide.
Cleary passed away on Thursday, March 25th in Northern California, where she had lived since the 1960s. No cause of death was given.
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