April 12, 2016
Dear Beverly Cleary,
Happy one hundredth birthday! I hope this letter finds you in good health.
I’ve been your fan for over forty years. It all got started when I was in second grade and Mom checked Beezus and Ramona out of the library to read to me. I was very skeptical. It was a thick book with pages crowded with words. Mom said I might want to start reading these on my own sometime. Ridiculous. It looked super hard, like something you’d be able to read in college.
So I humored Mom in this experiment. Did I get into it the first read aloud session? I’m not sure, but before long I was hooked. It was rip-roaring funny. I couldn’t have told you at the time, but what made the book wonderful were great characters, funny situations, perfect story-telling, and the illustrations by Louis Darling.
That first book set the stage for me to start reading them on my own. I roared through the books about Ramona and Beezus Quimby and. of course, Henry Huggins. I just ate it up. Henry and Beezus were great friends of mine. Ramona’s antics were so hilarious I couldn’t imagine anyone funnier. I like how as Ramona gets older, she gets more complicated and sympathetic. When I first read Ramona the Brave about her first grade year, I was missing the big guffaws from younger Ramona. Now I see the whole Ramona series as a compelling, utterly real, sometimes uproarious story of growing up.
As an adult, I’ve enjoyed reading your memoirs (Girl From Yamhill and My Own Two Feet) and reading your children’s books to my classes as a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade teacher. My wife Jen and I have read almost every book to our daughter and son. They’ve loved it all. My twelve year old recently realized we’d never read Emily’s Runaway Imagination and read it on her own.
When I moved to Oregon from Indiana, I had no clue most of your books were set in Northeast Portland. It was a pleasant surprise when I got here to find out that Klicktat Street was a real place. In the mid-‘90s it was a treat to join the hoopla at the unveiling of the statues at Grant Park: Ramona, Henry, and his good old dog Ribsy.
You continue to be my favorite children’s author. I read children’s books widely and there’s so much wonderful stuff out there. But I virtually never find any slice of life fiction for kids with the level of humor, storytelling, and psychological insight that I get from so many of your books including all the Henry Huggins and all the Ramona books. Often when I finish one of your books, I think, wow, that one must be her very best.
We have about 20 of your books on our shelves. When my wife was pregnant, she read a big pile of them. And I suspect when I don’t have anyone around “age-appropriate” to read them to anymore, I’ll just savor reading them to myself.
Congratulations on your staying power! Since it’s been 66 years since Henry Huggins first came out, may your books be widely popular for another 66 years at least.
With gratitude and good wishes,