The Quick 10: Drop Everything and Read (AKA: Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!)

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Happy D.E.A.R. Day! That's Drop Everything and Read, in case you don't have fond memories of D.E.A.R. from Beverly Cleary's Ramona Quimby books. Yes, it's a real educational holiday and the date was chosen to honor Beverly Cleary's birthday "“ she's 94 today. In honor of Ms. Cleary's birthday and D.E.A.R., here are a few facts about Ramona, Henry and the lady who brought them both to life.

1. Ramona readers no doubt remember the Quimby family lived on Klickitat Street, as did Henry Huggins. This might sound pretty familiar to residents of Portland, Oregon "“ it's a real street, and it was just a few blocks from the place young Beverly Bunn called home. The Klickitat are actually a Native American tribe that counts Klickitat County, Klickitat River and Klickitat, Washington, among their namesakes.
2. You may have noticed that even though times have changed since Henry Huggins was first published in 1950, Cleary's writing has not. Even when books are reprinted, older references such as long woolen underwear, soda fountains and ink pots are left in. Cleary herself is the same way "“ although she could be doing her writing on a Mac or a P.C., she prefers to write her tales on yellow legal pads. "Some pages I revise once or twice and some I revise half-a-dozen times. I then attack my enemy the typewriter and produce a badly typed manuscript which I take to a typist whose fingers somehow hit the right keys. No, I do not use a computer. Everybody asks."

3. If you ever thought the wholesome episodes of Leave it to Beaver felt like they could have come right off of Klickitat Street, well, so did the Leave it to Beaver people. They had Cleary write a series of tie-in books in the early 1960s.
4. Cleary likes to start her new books on January 2, but don't be looking for a new one anytime soon. Her last effort, Ramona's World, was published in 1999. Although she says she has jotted down a few thoughts about a new book, she has no plans to write it as of now.
5. According to Beverly, Henry Huggins was inspired by a specific friend of hers, and all of his friends were representations of kids she grew up with and attended library story hour with. "My best friend appears in assorted books in various disguises," she said. "She was Austine in Ellen Tebbits. And in Ramona's World, she appears as the woman who is concerned about children waiting for the school bus in front of her house. She lives in Portland and we talk about once a week."

6. Cleary had to elope with her husband because her parents disapproved of their marriage. The reason? Cleary's parents were Presbyterian and Clarence Cleary was Roman Catholic. The pair married in 1940 and celebrated 64 blissful years until his death in 2004. They had a set of twins named Marianne and Malcolm, the latter of whom served as inspiration for Keith in Cleary's The Mouse and the Motorcycle.

7. If you're looking for morals in Ramona stories, well, you're going to be looking for a while. "As a child, I disliked books in which children learned to be 'better' children," she once said. In fact, she started writing because she didn't believe any of the books in her library (she was a librarian before she was a writer) properly represented the way kids really acted. Her beliefs were affirmed when a little boy approached her desk and wondered where all of the books about "kids like us" were hidden. She decided to write one, although that didn't happen for another 10 years.

8. She's a bit reclusive. Cleary doesn't grant many interviews, carefully selects her public appearances and lives in the country in California out of public view.

9. Ramona was never meant to be a main character. As Cleary was writing Henry Huggins, she noticed she had unwittingly made all of her characters only children. So she tossed in a little sister for a character named Beezus and named her after a neighbor girl. Ramona quickly became the star of the show.
10. Beverly wasn't always a great student. Moving from rural Yamhill, Oregon, to the big city of Portland, really didn't agree with the first-grader. She was in poor health and missed school a lot; she wasn't crazy about her first-grade teacher and really didn't take to reading. That all changed when she moved on to second grade and was assigned to a teacher she adored. With help from her teacher and encouragement from the school librarian, Beverly had mastered reading by third grade and was devouring every book she could get her hands on. To this day, she says, her bad first grade experience makes her sympathetic to kids who struggle with reading.

I know we must have some Cleary fans reading. Which of her books was your favorite? Mine was Ramona Quimby, Age 8, but I also have fond memories of the Christmas pageant in Ramona and her Father when Ramona's mom makes her sheep costume out of old pajamas.

And if you want to participate in D.E.A.R today, it's easy: drop everything and pick up a book for 30 minutes! I think I might actually dig up one of my old Ramonas and wallow in a little nostalgia for half an hour.

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April 12, 2010 - 11:03am
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