Thursday, April 12, 2007

Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

Today is Beverly Cleary's 91st birthday. In honor of her birthday and in honor of the fact that Fauquier County Public Library is celebrating the occasion, I challenged myself to read all of Mrs. Cleary's books by her birthday.

I didn't make it.

Here's what I missed:


The Growing Up Feet

The Hullabaloo ABC

Janet's Thinhamajigs

The Luckiest Girl

The Mouse and the Motorcycle

Muggie Maggie

Otis Spofford

Ralph S. Mouse

The Real Hole


Runaway Ralph

Sister of the Bride



Two Dog Biscuits

Unfortunately, the challenge fell by the wayside. Reading duties for Capitol Choices and Battle of the Books demanded my reading time. Perhaps next year, I'll read the remaining books.

However, I am very happy that I created this personal challenge. It can be dangerous revisiting childhood favorites. As an adult, you may spot prejudices/inconsistencies/etc that you may have overlooked as a child. It can be disappointing to realize that the books haven't "held up" as you had hoped they had.

Let's begin with Henry Huggins. As a child, the Henry Huggins books were never really my favorites, so it was no big deal to me that I didn't enjoy them as much I had hoped I would. I was strangely irritated with some aspects of the books. It's not the fact that they are from an another era. It's the fact that some details are just profoundly weird, such as Henry and his friends practicing artificial respiration on each other at his party.

Honestly, I did feel a bit guilty when I laughed at Henry. Yes, I am aware of the fact that she wrote the books because her child patrons (she was a children's librarian) wanted to read books that featured children "like them." Meaning, that they didn't want to read another book about upper class British children or books that spoke down to them. I appreciate that fact. I love that fact.

After hurrying through the Henry Huggins books, I reached for the Ramona books with some hesitancy. I had reread the Ramona books when I worked for the East Baton Rouge Parish public library system, but I was a college undergraduate then.

Thankfully, I loved the Ramona books. As opposed to the Henry Huggins books, there were very, very few details that hinted at the fact that they were more than twenty years old. The vitality, the humor, and the everyday family and school situations still ring true. Unemployment, not being sure if a teacher likes you, and sibling issues are timeless issues.

Truly, it's almost as if two different authors wrote the Henry Huggins and the Ramona books. When you add in the Newbery Medal winning Dear Mr. Henshaw, there is no comparison. It is truly a wonder to go from the Henry Huggins books, to the Ramona books, and finally to the Leigh Botts books. Her growth as a writer was exceptional...a true marvel.

Why not celebrate this marvelous writer by rereading some of her books as well and attending our final Beverly Cleary program this Saturday, 11 a.m., at the Warrenton branch?

(If you haven't read her memoirs, you're in for a treat. I just wish she had written a third volume chronicling her biggest successes with the Ramona books and Dear Mr. Henshaw.)

Beverly CLeary's website.

NPR audio interview with Beverly Cleary

NPR interview with Beverly Cleary, shortly after Ramona's World was published.

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