Posted on May 12, 2016
By Kelly Torpey
“…when I was a children’s librarian, that was about 1940, boys particularly asked where were the books about kids like us, and there weren’t any at that time. So when I finally told myself if I was going to write I should sit down and start writing, well, I expected to write about the maturing of a sensitive girl but I found I didn’t have anything to say on the subject, and so I thought about those boys who wanted books about kids like us….”
Sitting at a typewriter, fingertips gently pressing its keyboard, I don’t think anyone, including Beverly Cleary herself, knew that the stories and characters she imagined, would become more that black print on white paper. At thirty-four, Beverly Cleary published her first children’s book (and over the years that followed, she published 40 more – selling 85 million copies). Not only did she introduce her readers to an imaginary world full of larger-than-life characters, she presented stories of childhood in a way that was both ingeniously funny and incredibly relatable.
This past April, Mrs. Cleary turned 100, and though this is a very small “tip of the hat” to her, I wanted to pay homage to one of her characters that as a child I was able to identify with. So much so, that I had to be her for Halloween – mismatched socks, an untucked t-shirt, a patterned skirt…messy hair. Any guesses who I was that Halloween night?
Her name is Ramona Quimby.
Ramona always reminds me of myself when I was a child. The imaginative (but irritating) younger sister who insisted on tagging along with her older sister, while also managing to cause A LOT of mischief. I wondered how Mrs. Cleary so cleverly created a character that not only I related to, but the generation before me, and even, the generation after. This got me thinking, how did Ramona Quimby become Ramona Quimby?
After a quick and easy search in Gale’s Literature Resource Center database, I came across a National Public Radio (NPR) audio clip of an interview Beverly Cleary had with one of their hosts in 2006. It was regarding Ramona Quimby, and how she became such an influential character in Mrs. Cleary’s career! It was an absolute pleasure to not only read transcripts from the interview, but to hear Mrs. Cleary’s voice speaking about her beloved character, Ramona.
She recalls Ramona as a very small character in her first novel, “Henry Huggins”, only to grow into a persona beyond control (and in her books, sometimes out of control):
“She kept growing until I thought maybe I should write about her, and my publisher wanted a book about her, so I wrote one.”
First of all, don’t you wish you could “just write one”?! Secondly, I think we all read in hopes of finding something relatable; whether a person, situation, dream, or Ramona Quimby from Klickitat Street, Oregon. We look for details that remind us of our life, our childhood, our dreams and our aspirations.
Beverly Cleary, you nailed it! Thank you Literature Resource Center and NPR for such wonderful snippets into Beverly Cleary’s thoughts and career.
And a very happy belated birthday to you Beverly Cleary!
For speeches, interviews, letters, and more from authors and literary figures like Beverly Clearly, trial Literature Resource Center today.