Beverly Cleary, Author of the Ramona Series, Dies at 104

Beverly Cleary, the author who created Ramona Quimby and Henry Higgins, died on Thursday, March 25 at the age of 104. Cleary’s publisher, HarperCollins, announced on Friday that the author died in her home in Northern California.

Named as a Living Legend by the Library of Congress in 2000, Cleary’s books have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and newer editions of her work include forwards from famous fans such as actress Amy Poehler, author Judy Blume and author Kate DiCamillo.

Although she intended to write children’s books since she was in the 7th grade, Cleary didn’t get her first publication until her early 30s with the publication of “Henry Huggins,” released in 1950. It was in “Henry Huggins” that Cleary introduced Ramona Quimby, a mischievous child whose exploits Clearly later featured in “Beezus and Ramona,” “Ramona’s World,” “Ramona the Pest” and five others. “Ramona and Her Mother” won the National Book Award in 1981.

But although Ramona might be Cleary’s most famous character, this star of eight children’s novels was originally included only as a side character. Clearly, after noticing all the child characters in “Henry Huggins” had no siblings, gave Beezus Quimby a spunky little sister for a bit of variety.

But most popular character or not, Cleary declined to pick Ramona or anyone else as her favorite character, an act which she compared to a mother picking a favorite child.

Cleary said Ramona was not modeled after herself.

“I was a well-behaved little girl,” said Cleary. “Not that I wanted to be. At the age of Ramona, in those days, children played outside. We played hopscotch and jump rope, and I loved them and always had scraped knees.”

Cleary also had a difficult start with school. She missed a lot of school due not only to frequent illnesses. She not only suffered from chicken pox and tonsillitis, but also a bout of smallpox, she said during an interview with the Associated Press. She said none of the adults seemed to understand that her difficulty learning might have anything to do with her frequent sever illnesses, which made her rebellious and angry, an anger no-doubt intensified by her abusive first-grade teacher, who frequently snapped the back of her hands with a steel-tipped pointer.  

She wrote about all of her childhood experiences her autobiography, “A Girl from Yamhill,” and her second autobiography, “My Own Two Feet,” continues her story through college and until the publication of “Henry Huggins.”

“People are astonished at the things I remember,” said Cleary. “I think it comes from living in isolation on a farm for the first six years of my life.” She said her main activity was observing the people and the world around her.

Cleary graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. She married her husband, Clarence Cleary, in 1940. And they had twins in 1955. Cleary said her babies, a boy and a girl, inspired her book “Mitch and Amy.”

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