Children’s book author Beverly Cleary dies at 104

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NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — Beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary, whose characters Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins enthralled generations of youngsters, has died. She was 104.

She died in her home in Carmel, California according to her publisher HarperCollins.

The acclaimed author sold over 91 million copies of her books and received several awards, including being named a “living legend” by the Library of Congress in 2000. She also received a national medal of National Endowment for the Arts in 2003.

“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.”

Suzanne Murphy, President and Publisher, HarperCollins Children’s Books
US President George W. Bush (C) stands with recipients of the National Medal of Arts in the Oval Office of the White House 12 November 2003 in Washington, DC. From left are: blues musician Buddy Guy; dancer and artistic director Suzanne Farrell; Bush; children’s book author Beverly Cleary; and actor-director Ron Howard. (TIM SLOAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Children worldwide came to love the adventures of Huggins and neighbors Ellen Tebbits, Otis Spofford, Beatrice “Beezus” Quimby and her younger sister, Ramona. They inhabit a down-home, wholesome setting on Klickitat Street — a real street in Portland, Oregon, the city where Cleary spent much of her youth.

Trained as a librarian, Cleary didn’t start writing books until her early 30s. Her first novel was 1950s “Henry Huggins,” based on the children she grew up with in Portland, Oregon. Cleary wrote more than 30 books, which sold millions of copies.

This image shows a collection of books by Beverly Cleary on Friday, March 26, 2021, at a home in Altadena, Calif. The beloved children’s author, whose characters Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins enthralled generations of youngsters, has died. She was 104. Cleary’s publisher, HarperCollins, announced her death Friday. In a statement, the company said Cleary died in Carmel, Calif., her home since the 1960s, on Thursday. No cause of death was given. (AP Photo/Anthony McCartney)

Among the “Henry” titles were “Henry and Ribsy,” “Henry and the Paper Route” and “Henry and Beezus.”

Ramona, perhaps her best-known character, made her debut in “Henry Huggins” with only a brief mention.

“All the children appeared to be only children so I tossed in a little sister and she didn’t go away. She kept appearing in every book,” she said in a March 2016 telephone interview from her California home.

A poster for “Ramona and Beezus” at Planet Hollywood Times Square during a promotion with actress Joey King on July 22, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

Cleary herself was an only child and said the character wasn’t a mirror.

“I was a well-behaved little girl, not that I wanted to be,” she said. “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.”

In all, there were eight books on Ramona between “Beezus and Ramona” in 1955 and “Ramona’s World” in 1999. Others included “Ramona the Pest” and “Ramona and Her Father.” In 1981, “Ramona and Her Mother” won the National Book Award.

Beverly Cleary in an undated photo (KOIN, file)

Cleary was born Beverly Bunn on April 12, 1916, in McMinnville, Oregon, and lived on a farm in Yamhill until her family moved to Portland when she was school-age. She was a slow reader, which she blamed on illness and a mean-spirited first-grade teacher who disciplined her by snapping a steel-tipped pointer across the back of her hands.

Her mother set up a library for the small town in a lodge room upstairs over a bank, NewsNation affiliate KOIN-TV reported.

“I had chicken pox, smallpox and tonsillitis in the first grade and nobody seemed to think that had anything to do with my reading trouble,” Cleary told the AP. “I just got mad and rebellious.”

By sixth or seventh grade, “I decided that I was going to write children’s stories,” she said.

Cleary graduated from junior college in Ontario, California, and the University of California at Berkeley, where she met her husband, Clarence. They married in 1940; Clarence Cleary died in 2004. They were the parents of twins, a boy and a girl born in 1955 who inspired her book “Mitch and Amy.”

Cleary studied library science at the University of Washington and worked as the children’s librarian at Yakima, Wash., and post librarian at the Oakland Army Hospital during World War II.

Cleary, a self-described “fuddy-duddy,” said there was a simple reason she began writing children’s books.

“As a librarian, children were always asking for books about `kids like us.′ Well, there weren’t any books about kids like them. So when I sat down to write, I found myself writing about the sort of children I had grown up with,” Cleary said in a 1993 Associated Press interview.

“Dear Mr. Henshaw,” the touching story of a lonely boy who corresponds with a children’s book author, won the 1984 John Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. It “came about because two different boys from different parts of the country asked me to write a book about a boy whose parents were divorced,” she told National Public Radio as she neared her 90th birthday.

“Ramona and Her Father” in 1978 and “Ramona Quimby, Age 8” in 1982 were named Newbery Honor Books.

This image shows a collection of books by Beverly Cleary on Friday, March 26, 2021, at a home in Altadena, Calif. The beloved children’s author, whose characters Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins enthralled generations of youngsters, has died. She was 104. Cleary’s publisher, HarperCollins, announced her death Friday. In a statement, the company said Cleary died in Carmel, Calif., her home since the 1960s, on Thursday. No cause of death was given. (AP Photo/Anthony McCartney)

Cleary ventured into fantasy with “The Mouse and the Motorcycle,” and the sequels “Runaway Ralph” and “Ralph S. Mouse.” “Socks,” about a cat’s struggle for acceptance when his owners have a baby, is told from the point of view of the pet himself.

Beverly Cleary, April 12, 2019 (KOIN, file)

She produced two volumes of autobiography for young readers, “A Girl from Yamhill,” on her childhood, and “My Own Two Feet,” which tells the story of her college and young adult years up to the time of her first book.

“I seem to have grown up with an unusual memory. People are astonished at the things I remember. I think it comes from living in isolation on a farm the first six years of my life where my main activity was observing,” Cleary said.

Her books have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and inspired Japanese, Danish and Swedish television programs based on the Henry Huggins series. A 10-part PBS series, “Ramona,” starred Canadian actress Sarah Polley. The 2010 film “Ramona and Beezus” featured actresses Joey King and Selena Gomez.

When children asked Mrs. Cleary where she got her ideas, she would reply,

“From my own experience and from the world around me.” 

Beverly Cleary

Donations may be made in Beverly Cleary’s name to the Library Foundation of Portland, Oregon, or the Information School at the University of Washington, according to HarperCollins.

The Associated Press and KOIN-TV contributed to this report.

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