Beverly Cleary’s 100th Birthday!

Hip, hip, hooray! Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday is today — April 12, 2016!

Bright air balloonsWell-known author of the timeless chapter books about Ramona, Beezus, Henry, and a brave motorcycle-riding mouse named Ralph, Beverly Cleary is also a picture book author. That’s right, among her many writing credits she’s written six charming picture books (below.)

So today I’d like to celebrate this legendary author!

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I must confess I’ve been a Beverly Cleary fan for as long as I can remember. In grade school I adored RAMONA THE PEST, HENRY HUGGINS, and RIBSY, but my favorite books of hers were RUNAWAY RALPH and THE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE.

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So when my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Ober, assigned everyone in our class to write a letter to his or her favorite author, I immediately knew who I would write to — Beverly Cleary. And to my amazement, she sent back a letter with a hand-written note and her autograph! She penned her message on a printed letter which contained her biography and a book list with the various awards her books had won. I was thrilled to receive Beverly Cleary’s letter, and have treasured it for over 42 years!

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In my letter, I’d asked if Ms. Cleary planned to write any more books about Ralph. It’s a bit challenging to read her cursive writing in the photo, so in case you’re curious, here’s her reply, “Thank you for your nice letter. I am so pleased to know you enjoy my books about Ralph. Perhaps I shall think about another book about him when I finish the book I am now writing about Ramona.  –Beverly Cleary” Now I’m not trying to take credit for the fact that she later wrote a third book about Ralph titled RALPH S. MOUSE, but it is a rather happy coincidence, don’t you think?

After receiving this letter, I was so excited I decided to write to Louis Darling, the illustrator who created the whimsical drawings of my favorite mouse, Ralph. I didn’t hear back for over a year, but then an envelope finally arrived from Lois Darling, Louis’ wife.

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In her note, Lois apologized for the delay and explained that her husband had died while working on RUNAWAY RALPH, so she’d completed the drawings for that book. She also answered my question reagarding if she and her husband liked to get letters from readers. Here’s her delightful reply, “Yes, I do like to get letters. BUT not as much as formally as I have neither the time or the money to pay for a stamp. It all costs so much more than it used to and a lot of letters add up.” (Note: the stamp on her envelope cost $0.13 in 1976.)

Beverly Clearly’s note (& Lois Darling’s too) had a big impact on me in grade school. Their kind, thoughtful letters showed me that authors and illustrators are real people–people who care about their readers and about creating books that children want to read.

As the years continued, I developed a passion (some might call it an obsession) for picture books.  After I became a mom, I decided to pursue this interest and see if I could help create children’s books. I wonder how many other authors Beverly Cleary has inspired!

So before I sign off, here are a few interesting facts about Beverly Cleary from the letter she sent me 42 years ago:

  • When Beverly Cleary was very young, she lived in a small town called Yamhill, Oregon. Yamhill didn’t have a library, so her mother contacted the State Library and asked them to send a new box of books periodically. Beverly’s mother shelved the books upstairs in the “town lodge” so people could go there to borrow books.
  • Beverly’s first writing attempt was an essay she wrote for a contest when she was ten. Her essay won the contest and ten dollars. (No one else entered the contest!)
  • After graduating from college, Beverly became a Children’s Librarian in Washington.
  • When Mrs. Cleary and her husband were moving into a house in Berkeley, California, she found a pile of typing paper in one of the closets. She told her husband that now she could write a book, if only she had some sharp pencils. The very next day her husband gave her a pencil sharpener!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Beverly Cleary!   I wish you a spectacularly, wonderful 100th celebration!

happy_birthday

 

Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade is the author of more than 100 books. A mechanical engineer by degree, she enjoys writing about science topics and fascinating, little-known facts about historical figures. Recent picture books include: The Music in George's Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue (4 Starred Reviews!), Friends for Freedom, With Books and Bricks, The Inventor’s Secret (2017 NSTA Best STEM Book, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt), and Out of School and Into Nature (Sleeping Bear, 2017). Coming soon -- Dangerous Jane (Peachtree, 2017), 2979 Days (Peachtree, 2018), Astronaut Annie (Tilbury House, 2018), and The Daring Dozen (Charlesbridge, 2019). Learn more about Suzanne and her books at: www.suzanneslade.com

54 Comments:

  1. Wow! So fun to see and hear about the responses from Beverly Cleary and Lois Darling! Thanks for sharing your letters.

    • It was really fun to share my treasured letters. In later years, I also wrote to (and received letters from) Madeleine L’ Engle (Wrinkle in Time), Lois Lenski, Bil Keane (The Family Circus newspaper comic), and Carolyn Haywood (“B” is for Betsy.)

  2. How cool you have Beverly’s autograph! This is neat stuff. Thanks for sharing, Suzanne!

  3. Oh, those letters….What treasures, Suzanne! Happy birthday, Beverly Cleary!!!

    • Yes, they are treasures. I used to take Beverly’s letter to every school visit. When it started getting a bit worn I put it in a plastic sleeve. Now I show it on a PowerPoint slide so everyone can see it better and my letter stays safely at home.

  4. How inspiring! Thank you, Suzanne, for sharing those letters and her impact on your writing career. She is one of my favorite authors too. I still have several of her books that my mom gave me when I was a child.

  5. So incredibly neat! Love her too (and you and I are pretty close to the same age – I was in second grade 42 years ago. 😀). Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary – and thanks so much for the tribute!

  6. Thank you for sharing these – these are just wonderful memories and letters! What treasures. I especially love that you inspired Ralph S. Mouse. 🙂 What a delight to read this morning.

  7. What a terrific post. It was so nice to learn more about Beverly Cleary and to have a chance to share your once-in-a-lifetime experience about receiving a special note from her.

    • Thanks for stopping by! It was fun to have the opportunity to share Beverly Cleary’s letter. After hearing back from her, I also wrote to (and received letters from) Madeleine L’ Engle (Wrinkle in Time), Lois Lenski, Bil Keane (The Family Circus newspaper comic), and Carolyn Haywood (“B” is for Betsy.) It was so much fun to hear from my book “heros!”

  8. I love that you kept those letters (and that envelope!) all these years. Thank you for sharing!

    I was introduced to Beverly Cleary’s books in the third grade. Ms. Lindamood, our school librarian, visited my classroom once a week, lowered the blinds, turned off the lights, and read from THE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE. I was hooked! Back then, I felt an extra special connection with Beverly Clearly’s books since my mom’s named Ramona. 🙂

  9. Yes, her letter is so special. And I’m very thankful I have a mom who is a “saver” or it might not have survived so many years! I can see how your mom’s name would have made Beverly Cleary’s books even more special!

  10. What treasures! Thank you for sharing.

  11. I love everything here! Beverly Cleary has indeed influenced countless lives. My kids know when we play Apples to Apples that I’m a sucker for the Ramona Quimby card.

  12. I grew up reading Beverly Cleary and so glad she is still among us. Let’s cross our fingers that writing will keep our minds and spirits young and we, too, will someday celebrate our centennial birthdays.:)

  13. Lindsay Hanson Metcalf

    What a cool story. I can only imagine how it felt to see that third Ralph book come out after you received her letter. Thank you for sharing.

  14. Thanks for sharing this, what a great pair of letters.

    • Yes, and as you may have noticed from some of my other replies, I have more. After hearing back from B. Cleary I wrote to (and received letters from) Madeleine L’ Engle (Wrinkle in Time), Lois Lenski, Bil Keane (The Family Circus newspaper comic), and Carolyn Haywood (“B” is for Betsy.) It was so much fun to hear from my book “heros!”

  15. Holy cow! How cool is that? Trés cool!

  16. Wow–what a thrill to have received responses to your letters! I would have loved that as a kid (still would!)

    Happy B-day, Beverly & thanks, Suzanne :).

  17. Suzanne, these letters are so inspiring, and I can just imagine what they meant to your young girl self. The best lesson here is realizing that authors are real people. That’s still hard for me to grasp. Looking forward to meeting you!

    • Well, if my life is an indication, then yes, authors are very real people who cook dinners, clean bathrooms, and walk the dog (but actually, I’m okay with all that!) I’m really looking forward to meeting you too, and hearing about your incredible adventures!

  18. Kathy Mazurowski

    Thank you for sharing your letters. You had a wonderful teacher to suggest that assignment. I wish I had encouraged my daughter to write to Beverly! She had the paper dolls, which unfortunately we did not keep. I was able to get a signed book, Ramona and Her Mother for a Christmas one year. A treasure!

  19. How wonderful! Thanks for sharing!

  20. I also grew up reading Beverly Cleary and now my 8-year-old grandson loves her too.

  21. I, too, am a huge Beverly Cleary fan. I loved reading her books just as much the second time around when our son was young. What a fabulous treasure you’ve got in these letters–thanks for sharing! And do I sense perhaps a future bio in the works?? Who better than the person who inspired Beverly to write the third Ralph book?! 🙂

  22. Loved this post, Suzanne! I saw the letter in person, so I can vouch for it!!

  23. Thanks for the tidbits about Beverly Cleary. And those letters are definitely treasures! Love it! Here’s another tidbit that I found – when Beverly was a librarian in Washington she influenced a young girl who later went on to be a best-selling author – Debbie Macomber. I would have to say that both of these women have inspired me!

  24. Thanks for sharing! This brought me back to my childhood!

  25. Thank you, Suzanne, with the great post. My son was a bit of a reluctant reader, and he LOVED Mouse and the Motorcycle. We read it over and over again. I really enjoyed reading your story. Receiving those letters was a thrill, and I’m glad that you shared them.

  26. This was an incredibly sweet post, Suzanne — what a beautiful way to celebrate Beverly by sharing this personal contact you had with her and the illustrator’s wife!

  27. What a talent Beverly Cleary is and I can only imagine that for her to know how her work has inspired you and so many other children must be very rewarding. This is a lovely tribute, Suzanne, thank you! Happy Birthday!!!!!

  28. Lovely to learn how a real author and illustrator inspired your career.

  29. Thanks for stopping by Patricia. It’s cool to think about how many authors Beverly Cleary must have inspired over her long life!

  30. My 8 year old grandson loves her too. What a gift to have typed and hand signed letters and books.

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