Moving, relatable, and frequently hilarious, Beverly Cleary’s stories have been captivating readers of all ages for more than 60 years. From Ramona Quimby to Socks the Cat, Cleary's characters—and the tales they inhabit—are still going strong all these decades later. Here’s what you might not know about one of the world’s favorite children’s authors, who turns 102 years old today.
1. SHE'S A FORMER LIBRARIAN.
2. SHE HELPED IMPROVE THE LEAVE IT TO BEAVER FRANCHISE.
Cleary once wrote a pair of original Leave It to Beaver tie-in stories starring Wally and The Beav which, according to several letters she received, many fans found much more enjoyable than the series’ film adaptation. (Her explanation? “I cut out dear old Dad’s philosophizing.”)
3. YOU CAN VISIT THE BEVERLY CLEARY SCULPTURE GARDEN IN PORTLAND, OREGON.
Many of Cleary’s best-known stories were partially set in Portland’s Grant Park (she grew up nearby) and, as a loving nod, the city unveiled statues of Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Ribsy the dog at the park in 1995.
4. SHE'S ALWAYS SYMPATHIZED WITH STRUGGLING READERS.
Getting put into the lowest reading circle in first grade almost made young Cleary resent books. Phonic lists were a drag and being force-fed Dick & Jane-style narratives was flat-out excruciating. “[We] wanted action. We wanted a story,” she lamented in her autobiography. It was an experience Cleary never forgot. Since then, she claimed to have always kept children who might be undergoing similar trials in mind while writing.
5. SHE'D WRITE AND BAKE SIMULTANEOUSLY.
Many authors crank up their favorite tunes during scribing sessions, but Cleary had a different approach. “I used to bake bread while I wrote," she once explained. "I’d mix the dough up and sit down and start to write. After a while, the dough would rise and I’d punch it down and write some more. When the dough rose the second time, I’d put it in the oven and have the yeasty smell of bread as I typed.”
6. THERE'S AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL NAMED IN HER HONOR.
Beverly Cleary Elementary is an Oregon K-8 school with three campuses in Portland, Oregon.
7. DESPITE HER PARENTS' OBJECTIONS, CLEARY ELOPED WITH THE MAN SHE LOVED.
“Gerhart” is the pseudonym her memoirs give to the fellow Beverly’s folks actually tried setting her up with, though the pair shared virtually no chemistry. Clarence Cleary, her future husband, was a kind-hearted economics and history student she met in college. He was also Roman Catholic, which didn’t sit well with her Presbyterian parents. Undaunted, Beverly Atlee Bunn eloped and became Beverly Cleary in 1940. The couple would remain together until Clarence’s death in 2004.
8. HARPER COLLINS PUBLISHING CREATED A HOLIDAY FOR HER BIRTHDAY.
It's called D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read), and though they encourage you to celebrate all the time, April 12 is the official date in honor of Cleary's birthday.
9. THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS DECLARED HER A "LIVING LEGEND."
This award is exclusively granted to “artists, writers, activists, filmmakers, physicians, entertainers, sports figures, and public servants who have made significant contributions to America’s diverse cultural, scientific, and social heritage.” Cleary received her title in 2000, joining the ranks of Judy Blume, Muhammad Ali, and Madeleine Albright.
10. SHE HAS A VERY WISE WRITING MANTRA.
When she was still a little girl, Cleary’s mother, an ex-teacher, gave her this advice: “The best writing is simple writing. And try to write something funny. People enjoy reading anything that makes them laugh.” Another tip that stuck with her came from a college professor, who often said, “The proper subject of the novel is the universal human experience.”
11. SHE'S A CAT LOVER.
Cleary has owned several cats over the years, one of whom used to resent having to compete with her typewriter for attention and would sit on the keys in protest.
12. SHE HAS A THEORY ABOUT WHY KIDS LOVE RAMONA QUIMBY SO MUCH.
“Because [Ramona] does not learn to be a better girl. I was so annoyed with the books in my childhood, because children always learned to be ‘better’ children and, in my experience, they didn’t. They just grew, and so I started Ramona … and she has never reformed. [She’s] really not a naughty child, in spite of the title Ramona the Pest. Her intentions are good, but she has a lot of imagination, and things sometimes don’t turn out the way she expected.”
A version of this story originally ran in 2014.