A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
APRIL 12:

  • Happy birthday Gary Soto (Baseball in April and Other Stories, Too Many Tamales).
  • It’s the birth date of C. W. Anderson (1891-1971), Billy and Blaze: A Boy and His Pony, Hardie Gramatky (1907-1979), Little Toot, Paul Showers (1910-1999), The Listening Walk, and Barbara Corcoran (1911-2003), Wolf at the Door.
  • In 1954, musical group Bill Haley and His Comets record the song “Rock Around the Clock.” Read Bats Around the Clock by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, and Boom Chicka Rock by John Archambault, illustrated by Suzanne Tanner Chitwood.
  • It’s National Licorice Day. Read Arthur’s Funny Money by Lillian Hoban.

All 95th birthdays are special, but today marks this important milestone for one of America’s most beloved writers for children, Beverly Cleary. When Cleary’s characters are listed—Henry Huggins, Ramona Quimby, Ribsy, Ralph S. Mouse—they remind people of childhood favorites, even friends.

Born in McMinnville, Oregon, on April 12, 1916, Beverly Alice Bunn lived for a short time on a farm in Yamhill before moving to Portland when she was six. In Girl from Yamhill, Cleary provided one of the most honest and poignant autobiographies that we have been given of a children’s book writer, one that shows how difficult at times her path to becoming an author has been. As her editor Barbara Lalicki has noted, Cleary emerged from her trials as a person with “a sparkling laugh and a unique, upbeat way of observing the world.”

Although Cleary loved having stories read to her, she had to endure being placed in the reading groups for underachievers. One day she picked up Lucy Fitch Perkin’s The Dutch Twins and found herself enjoying reading a book for the first time. Much later, after attending library school at the University of Washington, Cleary married, had children, and worked as a children’s librarian.

The children she had contact with on a daily basis became her muses. Those in first, second, or third grades often asked her for books about children, just like themselves, who have everyday adventures. As one said to her, ”Where are the books for kids like us?” The books of the time favored foreign settings, wild adventures, or mysteries. Unable to find the type of stories she wanted, Cleary set out to write them. In 1950 she published Henry Huggins, a book about a third grader who lives on Klickitat Street in Portland and who believes that nothing much ever happens to him. But then Henry discovers a stray dog, names him Ribsy, and life gets much more interesting. Each episodic chapter stands on its own, an ideal format for those learning to read. The chapters focus on Henry’s problems—as when his pet goldfish begins to multiply.

Though these books, and those about Ramona and her sister Beezus, keep children laughing and happy, they have a great deal more depth than is at first evident. In Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book Pulitzer Prize–winner Michael Dirda wrote about the final chapter Henry Huggins, in which Ribsy needs to choose between his former owner and Henry. “In those final pages of her novel, Beverly Cleary compels the reader to think hard about conflicting loyalties and obligations, to recognize the necessity of accommodation to circumstances, and to acknowledge one of life’s great, sad truths: Nothing that involves people and their feelings is ever plain and straightforward. All of us live with shadow and uncertainty and sometimes with qualms and regrets.”

I hope today, on her 95th birthday, Beverly has no regrets! For sixty-one years she has made children want to read and enjoy reading. Happy birthday, Beverly, and thank you from your millions of devoted fans. For those who want to join in the festivities, Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) is officially celebrating Cleary’s 95th birthday. Visit their website for ideas.

Here’s a passage from Henry Huggins:

Ribsy opened his eyes and, without moving his head, turned them first toward the strange boy and then toward Henry. “Come on Ribsy,” they both coaxed.

Slowly Ribsy stood up, and after a backward glance at the stranger, trotted eight squares down the sidewalk toward Henry. He paused, scratched again, and trotted the remaining squares to Henry. Then he sank down with his head on Henry’s foot and closed his eyes again.

Ribsy had chosen Henry!

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Originally posted April 12, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Dogs, Family, Humor, School
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Henry Huggins
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COMMENTS

  1. Sydnee says:

    Beverly Cleary is such a wonderful addition to the almanac; she uses a voice that reminds readers of a gentle simple childhood. I can’t imagine learning to read without the boys and girls of Klickitat Street there with me!

  2. Jeanne says:

    Ramona The Pest was the first chapter book that I read on my own when I was in second grade. I still have my original copy and sits proudly on my book shelf.

  3. Anita, what a great introduction! “All 95th birthdays are special”! Made me smile from the very first sentence!

    I love that you included Beverly Cleary in the Almanac – and of course, on the perfect day!

    Can’t wait to start reading these fun books about Henry Huggins, Ramona Quimby, Ribsy and Ralph S. Mouse to my kids!

    I’ve bought the Ramona and Ralph S. Mouse books (I found nice book sets – easier on the wallet), but your post today reminded me of the need to look for Henry and Ribsy!

    A timely reminder as always, from the Children’s Book A Day Almanac!

    Read Aloud Dad

  4. Rebecca says:

    Happy Birthday to Beverly Cleary! There is just no one else like her. These books remind me of learning to read, of being read to by my parents, of identifying with poor Ramona – as you said above, they are about so much. I’m loving introducing my own children to them as well. Timeless.

  5. Helen Frost says:

    It would have been kind of fun if she’d been known as Beverly Bunn.
    Thanks, Anita.

  6. Chelsey says:

    Wow, Beverly Cleary is seriously amazing. I loved Ramona so much when I was younger, and I’m pretty sure my copy of Henry and the Paper Route is falling apart.

  7. Anita says:

    Helen: Beverly actually wanted to publish under her maiden name, but her first editor discouraged it. Anita

  8. Dana Fisher says:

    I can remember my third grade teacher reading us Henry Huggins and how worried we all were that he would lose Ribsy. That book and Henry and Beezus are “comfort food” books from childhood. Happy birthday, Beverly Cleary from a long-time fan.

  9. G.Perry says:

    I never heard of Beverly Cleary before I arrived at her name in one of Anita’s books.

    You know, her writing introduced me to ways of feeling positive about a childhood self. Ways I didn’t know existed.

    Her writing illuminated places in my mind’s early past, with remarkable warmth and kindness, and those little DNA fireflies she delivered, have decided to stay.

    She has made me very happy.

    Happy Birthday Beverly.

  10. Anita says:

    Thanks for the comments. Barbara Lalicki was with Beverly for her birthday and read the post and comments; she appreciated what everyone had to say.

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