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On Beverly Cleary

CBC’s new History is Lit series will explore literary history, book lore, ancient storytelling, and any place where stories and yesteryear meet.

Those of us with siblings know the balance of love and struggle that comes with growing up together. We’re often faced with a fine balance between wanting to hug them or strangle them. Most of the time, I chose the former, but the latter enticed me more than I care to admit. No one wrote about this particular dynamic more clearly than Beverly Cleary, especially with Beezus and Ramona Quimby. 

Beverly was born on April 12, 1916, in Oregon. Her early years were spent on a farm, so when her family had to move to the city (Portland), she struggled with the change. Despite a rough start at school, her librarian saw the promise of a writer in Beverly from an early age. This encouragement led her to finish her English degree at UC Berkley and, as a bonus, this was also where Beverly met Clarence Cleary, her future husband and life partner.

Beverly then went on to get her degree in Library Science from the University of Washington and then became a librarian in the town of Yakima. It was here where she was inspired to write. Her young patrons were little boys who considered themselves nonreaders since there were no books about “boys like them.” Thus in 1950, Henry Huggins, her first novel, was published.

Henry and the kids of Klickitat Street became the focus of many of her humorous books and series. Among these was Ramona, the lovable “pest” sister of Beezus. The Ramona series became, arguably, her most popular and famous because readers were able to grow up with the character. (And for some of us, we now knew we weren’t the only ones with a particularly infuriating sibling). The first of the series came in 1955 and the last one was published in 1999. Aside from these, Beverly wrote many books and stories, three of which won the Newbery. 

Cleary was named a Living Legend in 2000 by the Library of Congress and passed away in 2021, a few weeks shy of her 105th birthday!

Beverly Cleary signs copies of her books at a book festival in 1998. (Vern Fisher—Monterey Herald/AP Images)

Beverly, through Beezus, showed us how to love our siblings, even if we didn’t always like them. She showed us how to be more curious, how life doesn’t have to be taken too seriously, and that a good laugh can always be found. I encourage us to go out and celebrate this iconic writer by finding joy in what makes us and our loved ones quirky and unique!

Dive into the world of Beverly Cleary.

CBC’s resident history and yesteryear explorer, Laura Peraza, takes you back in time. Check out other series on our blog and our Reader Resources for more books and materials.

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