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Beverly Cleary worked in a book store and as a librarian as a young woman. She noticed a deficiency in many of the books for children at the time. They were boring! So, she spent her career writing books for children who wanted to read books about children like them, doing the things that they did. She wrote about children going to school, making up games and fighting with their siblings. Cleary used her experiences growing up to fuel her stories. She imbued the stories with humor and paid attention to the feelings of her characters as well as the events of the plot. The result were stories that were memorable and amusing, even seventy years later.

Despite years since my last perusal of a Henry Huggins or Ramona Quimby book, I can still remember Henry filling his room with guppies in glasses and Ramona drawing her own coloring book because her mother won’t let her have one.

Many of Cleary’s books focus on Henry and Ramona, her two most famous characters, and their lives in a middle-class neighborhood in Portland. There are also gems, however, among her shorter series or stand-alone books. Socks follows a forlorn cat who can’t understand why his devoted humans are suddenly more interested in a baby than him. The three books in the Ralph S. Mouse series follow the adventures of a mouse who enjoys riding a toy motorcycle and can talk to children.

In 1983 Cleary won the Newberry Award for Dear Mr. Henshaw. Like the books about Henry and Ramona, this book dealt with childhood problems. Leigh Botts has problems that many children can relate to. He struggles with his parent’s divorce, his mother being busy with work and school, fitting in at his new school and wanting to write stories of his own. The book is told first in letters to an author (the Mr. Henshaw in the title) and then in Leigh's diary. It is one of my favorite realistic fiction books for children.

Beverly Cleary made her mark on children’s literature. Although some of her work may seem old fashioned or dated, she opened the door for writers today who write about children and childhood with sensitivity and respect as well as humor.  

You can find some of her works here.  

If you like the works of Beverly Cleary, you can try these titles:  

Alvin Ho by Lenore Look

 

Judy Moody

 

Juana and Lucas

 

Jada Jones

 

EllRay Jakes

 

Frindle

 

 

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