10 Lesser-Known Beverly Cleary Books
You’ve probably heard of Henry Huggins, Ramona Quimby, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle, but what about Otis Spofford and Leigh Botts? Beverly Cleary wrote over 30 books for children in her career. Here are some of the more obscure, but equally delightful, offerings.
1. ELLEN TEBBITS (1951)
In Cleary’s second book, 8-year-old Ellen Tebbits bonds with a girl named Austine when she discovers they’re both wearing woolen underwear. Ellen and Austine become best friends until they fight over a misunderstanding caused by rascally classmate Otis Spofford. The book is a sharp look into the ups and downs of little girl friendships. Cleary soon followed up with a sequel, Otis Spofford.
2. MITCH AND AMY (1967)
Cleary based the twins Mitch and Amy on her own children, Malcolm and Marianne. While Amy is good at reading, Mitch is good at math, and they bicker about their differences. But they soon learn that they have something in common when a bully starts picking on both of them. The book demonstrated how even siblings who squabble still love and defend each other.
3. FIFTEEN (1956)
Jane Purdy sees herself as an ordinary high school sophomore until handsome and popular Stan Crandall asks her on a date. With her usual observational style, Cleary depicts the emotional life of a teenager experiencing first love. She went on to write three other books about teenagers: The Luckiest Girl, Jean and Johnny, and Sister of the Bride.
4. LEAVE IT TO BEAVER (1960)
One day, a TV executive called Cleary out of the blue. The network was looking for someone to adapt Leave It To Beaver into books to sell as companion products for the TV show. She agreed, and although she said “it was boring work,” she wrote three books: Leave It To Beaver, Here’s Beaver, and Beaver and Wally.
5. DEAR MR. HENSHAW (1983)
In this book, which won Cleary the Newbery Medal, sixth-grader Leigh Botts writes a letter to his favorite author, Boyd Henshaw. Through the letters, and eventually a diary, Leigh writes his feelings about being the new kid in town, having his lunch stolen, and his parents’ divorce. The book has a sequel, Strider.
6. TWO TIMES THE FUN (2005)
It’s not surprising that Cleary also wrote picture books for young children. Some of those books are about twins Jimmy and Janet, and this omnibus collects four Cleary picture books about the twins in one place: The Real Hole, Two Dog Biscuits, The Growing-Up Feet, and Janet's Thingamajigs.
7. EMILY'S RUNAWAY IMAGINATION (1961)
This is Cleary’s one foray into historical fiction. Emily lives in rural Oregon in the early 20th century, when the automobile is still a new-fangled invention. Her imagination causes all kinds of shenanigans—she gets the pigs drunk by feeding them rotten apples, bleaches a horse white, and terrifies herself into believing she saw a ghost. She also helps a public library open in town.
8. MUGGIE MAGGIE (1990)
Cleary even managed to write an entertaining story about cursive writing. When a teacher tells Maggie that her attempt to write her name looked like “Muggie,” Maggie vows never to learn cursive. But when she’s appointed class mail messenger, she has to carry notes to the office that she suspects are about her—only she can’t read them because they’re in cursive. The only way to find out, it seems, is to learn the dreaded handwriting after all.
9. SOCKS (1973)
Cleary wrote Ribsy about Henry Huggins' dog in the 1960s. In the 1970s, she wrote Socks from the point of view of a tabby cat who belongs to a young couple, Bill and Marilyn Bricker. When Marilyn gives birth to a son, Socks must learn that the Brickers still love him, and then that the baby isn’t so bad after all.
10. A GIRL FROM YAMHILL (1988)
A Girl From Yamhill is Cleary’s memoir about her childhood in Oregon during Prohibition and the Great Depression. It covers growing up on a farm, her struggles in school, and her difficult relationship with her mother. In 1995, she published a sequel, My Own Two Feet, which follows her from college to marriage and finally, to writing her first book and becoming an author.