America Mourns Beverly Cleary

Tributes pour in for beloved children’s author, who passed away last week at 104

“Beverly Cleary! My inspiration,” fellow kids’ book icon Judy Blume tweeted the evening of March 27. “I wanted to write books like yours. I so regret never having met you. You will not be forgotten.”

Cleary’s death, a few days shy of her 105th birthday, spurred a wave of accolades and reminiscences from the children’s literature community and beyond. 

A former librarian who wrote more than 40 books and birthed the appealingly feisty Ramona Quimby, Cleary enjoyed a long and celebrated career. She earned a Newbery medal, a National Book Award and a National Medal of the Arts. There’s a sculpture garden of her characters in Oregon’s Grant Park, near where she set most of her books and where mourners began bringing flowers after publisher Harper Collins announced her death March 26. Reissues of her most popular titles for her 100th birthday included new forewords from director and actor Amy Poehler and bestselling children’s author Kate Di Camillo, who named her dog after Ramona.  

Cleary garnered a front-page New York Times obituary and tributes from authors for all ages. The Hate U Give author Angie Thomas tweeted “What a life lived. Thank you, Beverly Cleary.” Bestselling graphic novelist Raina Telgemeier (Smile, Ghosts) said she couldn’t remember a talk from the last decade when she didn’t mention Cleary’s impact on her as a “reader, writer and person.” Pachinko author and National Book Award finalist Min Jin Lee tweeted “Beverly Cleary wrote great American literature. Rest in power.” 

Beverly Cleary
‘Ramona the Pest,’ by Beverly Cleary, who lived a long, long time.

Cleary first found commercial success in the 1950s with her books about Henry Huggins, intentionally centered on relatable storylines about adopting strays and wanting a new bicycle. As she added more titles, she made sure to reflect what shifting family dynamics may have looked like for her young readers. 

“Let’s remember that Beverly Cleary wrote a book in the 70s in which Ramona’s mom goes to work full-time, making her the sole breadwinner, & she doesn’t have time to sew Ramona’s Christmas pageant costume, so Ramona wears PJs. A toast to Beverly Cleary from moms who work,” tweeted CBS Sunday Morning contributor Faith Salie, who also appears regularly on NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” 

 To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before author Jenny Han remembered reading a scene as a child showing sisters clinging to each other as they slept, worried that a fight meant their parents were divorcing. “It was such a real scene,” Han tweeted. “As a little kid it comforted me and as an adult, I just reread it and it’s still a banger.”

Above all of Cleary’s creations, though, was Ramona Quimby. The spirited younger sister of Henry’s friend Beezus — added because Cleary realized all her young characters at that point were only children – won hearts, bolstered pluck and yes, inspired tattoos.

“Ramona brought me so much joy as a child and inspired me to ask my Grandma Ginger to quit smoking for my 8th birthday (she did!),” tweeted Chelsea Clinton. Reese Witherspoon recalled her “fondest memories” reading the Ramona books, which eventually became an 8-title series. “You made my childhood fun,” Viola Davis remembered. And even FLOTUS Jill Biden weighed in, tweeting that millions of girls (presumably herself included) saw themselves in Ramona: “Thank you from all the ‘pests’ out there.”

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Sharyn Vane

Sharyn Vane has reported and edited at newspapers in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Florida and Texas. For the last decade she has written about literature for young people for the Austin American-Statesman.

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