Beverly Cleary, creator of Henry Huggins and his dog Ribsy, bratty Ramona Quimby and her older sister Beezus, and Ralph S. Mouse--whose books sold more than 85 million copies--died on March 25 at age 104. The New York Times wrote that "Cleary, a librarian by trade, introduced a contemporary note into children's literature. In a humorous, lively style, she made compelling drama out of the everyday problems, small injustices and perplexing mysteries--adults chief among them--that define middle-class American childhood.... Always sympathetic, never condescending, she presented her readers with characters they knew and understood, the 20th-century equivalents of Huck Finn or Louisa May Alcott's little women, and every bit as popular."
In an article in the Horn Book, Cleary recalled as a child being disappointed by children's books, which seemed to feature "aristocratic English children who had nannies and pony carts, or poor children whose problems disappeared when a long-lost rich relative turned up in the last chapter." Thus, she said, "I wanted to read funny stories about the sort of children I knew, and I decided that someday when I grew up, I would write them."
After graduating from UC Berkeley and the University of Washington with bachelor's degrees in English and librarianship, respectively, Cleary became a librarian and worked at Sather Gate Book Shop in Berkeley and continued to be disappointed by books for children.
In her acceptance speech upon winning the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from the American Library Association in 1975, she remembered this problem again: "Why didn't authors write books about everyday problems that children could solve by themselves? Why weren't there more stories about children playing? Why couldn't I find more books that would make me laugh? These were the books I wanted to read, and the books I was eventually to write."
"She began telling her own stories, along with fairy tales and folk tales, at schools and libraries," the Times wrote, which led to her first book, Henry Huggins, published in 1950. The popularity of the book led to sequels--including Henry and Beezus, Henry and Ribsy, Henry and the Paper Route, Henry and the Clubhouse and Ribsy--as well as spinoffs focusing on some of Henry Huggins's friends, including Ellen Tebbits and Otis Spofford.
From this group, Ramona Quimby "emerged as a superstar," the Times wrote. After Beezus and Ramona, she starred in Ramona the Pest, Ramona the Brave, Ramona and Her Father, Ramona and Her Mother, Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Ramona Forever and Ramona's World.
Ralph S. Mouse starred in The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Runaway Ralph and Ralph S. Mouse.
Cleary also wrote a series of YA novels dealing with the problems of adolescent girls, including Fifteen, The Luckiest Girl and Sister of the Bride.
Her memoirs included A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet.
Cleary won so many awards it's impossible to list them all here. Besides the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, she was the recipient of a National Medal of Art from the National Endowment for the Arts; winner of the Los Angeles Times Robert Kirsch Award; was named a "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress; and won several Newbery medals and honors.
In 2016, to celebrate her 100th birthday, three of her books were reissued with forewords by Judy Blume, Amy Poehler and Kate DiCamillo. And in 2017, her first series--the Henry Huggins books--was reissued with original art from the late Louis Darling. These six titles included forewords by award-winning authors and artists Tony DiTerlizzi, Marla Frazee, Tom Angleberger, Jeff Kinney, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, and Cece Bell.
Suzanne Murphy, president and publisher of HarperCollins Children's Books, her longtime publisher, said, "We are saddened by the passing of Beverly Cleary, one of the most beloved children's authors of all time. Looking back, she'd often say, 'I've had a lucky life,' and generations of children count themselves lucky too--lucky to have the very real characters Beverly Cleary created, including Henry Huggins, Ramona and Beezus Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse, as true friends who helped shape their growing-up years. We at HarperCollins also feel extremely lucky to have worked with Beverly Cleary and to have enjoyed her sparkling wit. Her timeless books are an affirmation of her everlasting connection to the pleasures, challenges, and triumphs that are part of every childhood."
And the New York Public Library said it is "deeply saddened to hear of the loss of Beverly Cleary, whose award-winning, brilliant books consistently fly off our shelves and have delighted generations of readers. She believed reading should be fun, and she made that happen with beloved characters and stories that made us laugh, taught us important lessons, and shaped our childhoods. Those imaginative and accessible stories sparked a lifelong love of reading in so many children, a noble legacy that certainly won't end today. We know that her books will stand the test of time, and be checked out of our libraries for decades and centuries to come. Rest in peace, Ms. Cleary, and thank you."