Her birthday—April 12— holds double significance to readers as the day is also celebrated as the National D.E.A.R. Day (Drop Everything and Read).
Beverly Cleary, the iconic author who gifted the beloved Ramona Quimby books to the world, recently turned 104 years old! Her birthday—April 12— holds double significance to readers as the day is also celebrated as the National D.E.A.R. Day (Drop Everything and Read) in honor of Cleary's incredible contributions to the literary world. Fan tributes have already begun pouring in on social media, signifying just how popular and relevant the author's stories remain even today. As we celebrate this phenomenal personality and her creations, let's take a look at Cleary's extraordinary life.
According to PEOPLE, although Cleary's last book, Ramona’s World, was published in 1999, her books continue to sell across the globe, introducing children to characters like Henry Huggins, Beezus, and Ramona Quimby, Ellen Tebbits, Otis Spofford, as well as Ribsy, Socks, and Ralph S. Mouse. She was named a "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress in 2005, in addition to which she has earned a number of prestigious awards over the years. Cleary, who has sold more than 91 million books in 14 languages across 20 countries, won the National Book Award for the 1979 book Ramona and Her Mother—the fifth one in the popular Ramona series.
Beverly Cleary's 104th birthday is on Sunday! pic.twitter.com/4a8cDAPDgh— John Schu (@MrSchuReads) April 9, 2020
A happy 104th birthday to Beverly Cleary!— Justin Kantor (@JustinKantor4U) April 10, 2020
...Growing up, I read all of the 'Ramona' books. I was thrilled when this Canadian TV adaptation came about. Sarah Polley embodied Ramona so naturally, as did co-stars Lynda Mason Green, Lori Chodos, & Barry Flatman as her family. pic.twitter.com/rvDhEqks5D
But for Cleary, it's not the awards or critical reviews that count as success. Speaking to TODAY's Jenna Bush Hager back in 2016 on the occasion of turning 100, the author revealed that she was proudest simply of "the fact that children love my books." At the time, she also admitted that she'd never expected to hit the century mark. "I remember a very earnest conversation my best friend and I had when we were, I guess, freshmen in high school, about how long we wanted to live. And we decided that 80 was the cut-off date," she recalled.
As for the secret to her longevity, the author replied in true Ramona spirit: "Well, I didn't do it on purpose!" Cleary herself has admitted that there's a distinct similarity between herself and her most beloved character. During a 2010 interview with PEOPLE ahead of the premiere of the Selena Gomez starrer, Ramona and Beezus, Cleary revealed that while she most identifies with the well-mannered Ellen Tebbits, on the inside she had "Ramona-like thoughts." Perhaps the author's description of the character in Ramona the Pest says a lot about both Cleary and Ramona: "She was not a slowpoke grownup. She was a girl who could not wait. Life was so interesting she had to find out what happened next."
Born in McMinnville, Oregon in 1916, the renowned author lived on a farm in Yamhill until she was old enough to attend school. Although Cleary's life has been defined by her books, she struggled with reading as a child and didn’t embrace books until they moved to Portland, Oregon. She eventually realized she wanted to write stories that she "longed to read but was unable to find on the library shelves, funny stories about her neighborhood and the sort of children she knew." Speaking about it in a previous interview, she said: "Books in those days, back in the 1920s, had been published in England, and the children had nannies and pony carts and they seemed like a bunch of sissies to me."
Hence, Cleary's books do not feature pony carts or nannies. Rather, they are filled with lively characters living in a real, recognizable world, going through the relatable experiences and emotions of actual American children. Happy birthday, Cleary!