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Arts & Culture

Discovering Beverly Cleary

Beverly Cleary is an award-winning author whose books for children have become classics. She’s probably best known for her characters Ramona Quimby and her sister Beezus, Henry Huggins, Ralph S. Mouse and his motorcycle, Socks the cat, and many more. At age ninety-nine, she sat down with OPB Producer Katrina Sarson for a rare look back at her life and celebrated career.

“Discovering Beverly Cleary” explores Cleary’s childhood and early influences, and reveals her inspiration for the beloved characters she created. It features conversations with Cleary’s colleagues and fellow authors, and stories from fans young and old. Interviews in this special include:

  • Oregon authors Brian Doyle and Renee Watson; Maryland author Dhonielle Clayton and more.
  • President of the University of Washington, where Mrs. Cleary earned a degree in library science, and the Dean of the University of Washington iSchool.
  • Cleary’s longtime book editor David Reuther who currently resides in New York.
  • Two Beverly Cleary book illustrators, Caldicott–award winner Paul O. Zelinsky and Tracy Dockray, also currently living in New York.

Cleary attributes her ability to write for children to her experiences reading stories aloud as a librarian, her first career. She often started with a memory she had from growing up in Oregon, enhanced it with imagination and shaped it into a story. Cleary is known for incorporating universal human experiences into her stories and she had the ability to create characters that kids could relate to and understand. Her first book, Henry Huggins, was published in 1950 and was an immediate success. She published almost fifty books before retiring from writing in 2000.

This special visits a statue garden in Portland, Oregon that pays tribute to three of her best-loved characters. “The Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden for Children” features bronze statues of Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Ribsy, and was dedicated in 1995. The statue garden was designed as a tribute to Cleary by fans, and installed through the contributions of children and Beverly Cleary fans all over the country. Libraries would put up penny jars in their children’s library and kids would put their pennies in the jars, then the libraries would send checks. They raised more than $150,000 over five years. This special includes the story of creating the sculpture garden, and an interview with the artist who created the sculptures.

And each year on Cleary’s birthday in April, schools and communities around the country participate in “Drop Everything and Read Day,” which Ramona made famous.

Beverly Cleary’s books have been awarded two Newbery Honors and a Newbery Medal, the highest prize for writers of books for young readers. She also received the American Library Association’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Award in 1975, the Catholic Library Association’s Regina Medal in 1980, and the University of Southern Mississippi’s Silver Medallion in 1982, all presented in recognition of her outstanding contribution to children’s literature.

In 2000, Beverly Cleary was named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress, an honor given to those who have made significant contributions to America’s diverse cultural, scientific and social heritage. In 2003, President George W. Bush presented Cleary with the National Medal of Arts.

Her much-loved characters and stories have delighted children for generations, and this special program provides a unique opportunity to get to know the woman behind the books.

Press Images
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Beverly Cleary with Kids at Berkeley, 1957

Beverly Cleary with Kids at Berkeley, 1957

Courtesy: Cleary Family Archive/Used with Permission

Beverly Cleary with Cat

Beverly Cleary with Cat

Courtesy: Cleary Family Archive/Used with Permission


Reading Fan Mail

Reading Fan Mail

Courtesy: Cleary Family Archive/Used with Permission

Beverly Cleary Early in Her Career

Beverly Cleary Early in Her Career

Courtesy: Cleary Family Archive/Used with Permission

Beverly Cleary at Her Craft, 1974

Beverly Cleary at Her Craft, 1974

Courtesy: Cleary Family Archive/Used with Permission

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