Very exciting news, everyone! Beverly Cleary has published another book! I love Beverly Cleary so much. You know those surveys you get in your email, where one of the questions is, “Who would you most like to have lunch with?” My answer is always Beverly Cleary. Because she is awesome.
Seriously, I cannot imagine what my childhood would have been like without Mrs. Cleary’s books. My mother taught me how to read when I was three, and I got immediately hooked. I read everything I could get my hands on, which was greatly facilitated by my dad’s working for a publishing company. We didn’t have much money at all, but we always had books in our home. And you know how I’m all obsessive with my TV shows and characters? I was the same way with books. I read Little Women when I was four, and would rotate which character I was. Depending on the day, I’d be Meg, Jo, Beth, or Amy, and God help the person who refused to call me by the proper name, especially when I was Amy. She was my favorite, with all of the drama. Falling into lakes, throwing tantrums. I still laugh when I think of her throwing Jo’s manuscript into the fire, because what a randomly evil thing to do! Also, I was in love with Amy’s hair. My hair has always been fine and pin straight, so of course I have a jealous obsession with long, thick, curly hair.
And you see, Beverly Cleary? She got that. The first book of hers that I ever read was Ramona the Pest, where we meet Susan with the boing-boing curls. Ramona sits there every day in wistful agony, gazing at Susan’s luxurious hair. So how does she respond to this? By reaching over and pulling Susan’s hair, of course! While whispering, “boing!” So awesome! Ramona is constantly acting out on her fantasies, for better and for worse. She has this rapid mind thats constantly thinking and observing, and often at war with her deep compulsions. That was me! Or I guess, still is me, but I’m just saying. When I was five, reading about this other five-year-old girl who begs for shiny red boots, and gets them despite her mothers better judgment and financial situation, only to immediately ruin them because she simply cannot resist playing in the mud? And then gets stuck and has the whole town in a very Stars Hollowian way try to rescue her? Was GREAT!
And every chapter is like that in every Beverly Cleary book. She’s said that she writes intuitively, without outlines, because that keeps the stories fun. She has also said that she was inspired to write because when she was a children’s librarian, none of the kids in the books sounded real. I think that is one of the reasons she is so universally beloved — because she gets it. She gets kids; she gets the human mind. She gets that life never really stops being funny, if we look at it from the right angles. Beverly Cleary was all about the dry humor before dry humor was trendy. She’s always been able to capture the idea that in a child’s world, everything is equal parts wonder, trauma, agony, and exuberance. And really, that never changes much, does it?
So, if you’ve never read Beverly Cleary, or haven’t since you were a kid, I highly recommend that you pick up one of her books. My personal favorite is Ramona Quimby, Age 8*, in great part because of the public vomiting, because what’s more humiliating than that, but it’s a really tight race among the Ramona books. And all of Beverly Cleary’s books are fantastic, including her memoirs.
Happy almost-birthday, Beverly Cleary. Thank you so much for writing back to me when I was nine, and again when I was 25. I really hope to meet you one day. Thank you so much for everything youve given to the world. And I can’t wait to read your new book!
© May 4, 2005
* Update: Six years later, I think Ramona the Brave is my actual favorite-favorite, for the way Cleary captures the terror of sleeping on your own for the first time, in a new room. But again, they are all A+ books.