Godspeed, Beverly Cleary

I would have been in second or third grade, sometime in the early 1970s, when our teacher read aloud a book about a dog and his boy, both of whom lived in a strangely-named street in a neighborhood not too different from the one my classmates and I grew up in. The book was Ribsy. The boy was Henry Huggins, and the street was called Klickitat, although it was many years before I found out the city was Portland, Oregon. The author was a woman named Beverly Cleary, who passed away last Thursday at the age of 104.

It didn’t take long to meet the other kids in the neighborhood around Klickitat Street: Scooter, Murph, Ellen, Otis, Beezus. And, oh yes, Ramona. Who can ever forget Ramona? I read lots of Cleary books through grade school, but with more than forty books to her credit, there were a lot more I didn’t ever get to. I suppose I kind of grew out of Beverly Cleary’s books as I got older, but the worlds she created never really left me. It’s hard to say why exactly. Maybe it was her writing style — no more complicated than it needed to be, but not simplified to the point of patronizing young readers. Or maybe it was the characterizations. Henry, Ramona, Beezus and the rest were believable in a way other author’s characters weren’t. Maybe I didn’t know them personally, but I could see bits of them in everyone I did know. In any case, reading Beverly Cleary books was a pleasure I never forgot, and one I had the chance to revive as my own daughters got older and starting reading about Ramona and her family themselves.

I suspect most people reading this post experienced Beverly Cleary books about the same way I did. If you haven’t had the pleasure, her works are still in print and easy to find. An interesting Wikipedia article revealed something I never knew until just a few minutes ago: Beverly Cleary penned three Leave It to Beaver novelizations!

So Godspeed, Beverly Cleary. Sure, we’ll miss you, but your books, and the worlds you created a shared, are things we’ll never have to give up.

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