Beloved Oregon author Beverly Cleary has died. She was 104.
Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Ralph the Mouse are among some of her best-known characters. More than half a century after her first book was published, sales are still strong, with more than 91 million books sold and counting.
Born Beverly Atlee Bunn, the iconic writer of children’s and young-adult novels spent most of her own childhood in Northeast Portland’s Hollywood neighborhood. She would go on to make Klickitat and Tillamook streets famous in her books.
But she didn’t actually start writing until much later in life. She’d gone to the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Washington, and worked as a librarian in Yakima, Washington. Then, after settling down with her husband, Clarence Cleary, in Berkeley, California, she pulled up a typewriter to try her first book.
“I expected to write about the maturing of a sensitive female,” she said, in a 2015 interview. “And I waited and waited and no ideas came. And I thought about the little boy in the Yakima Public Library where I had worked in the Children’s Department, who”— she laughed — “faced me rather ferociously once and said, where are the books about kids like us? And it changed my whole attitude.”
Cleary published her first book, “Henry Huggins,” in 1950. The book featured Henry, his friends Beezus and Ramona, and the rambunctious lives of the children who lived on Klickitat Street. “Henry Huggins” stood out from other books for young readers, which often had a moral lesson and very well-behaved children for main characters.
“As I finished my first book, I had ideas for my second,” she said. “It was just work that I enjoyed. I could do it at home and I didn’t have to catch a bus.”
Cleary wrote more than thirty-nine books, including two memoirs, during her decades-long career.
“Looking back, she’d often say, ‘I’ve had a lucky life,’ and generations of children count themselves lucky too—lucky to have the very real characters Beverly Cleary created,” Suzanne Murphy, president and publisher, HarperCollins Children’s Books shared Friday in a press release announcing the author’s death, which was Thursday.
Eric Kimmel, a children’s author and professor emeritus at Portland State University, called Cleary “the Ernest Hemingway of children’s books.”
“Because her writing is so deceptively simple,” Kimmel said. “In very short sentences, not a lot of description. But yet she packs so much into every word. And I’ve often said, she does more with one sentence than a lot of writers can do with a whole chapter.”
Cleary received almost countless awards in her long life, including a National Medal of the Arts, multiple Newbery Honors and in 2000 she was named a Library of Congress Living Legend.
“The books that she wrote in the ’50s are still read and loved by people, I think, as much as they were then. And that’s extraordinary,” said David Reuther, who was senior vice president and editor in chief of Morrow Junior books before he retired. . “There are very, very few people who have books like that.”
Reuther was Cleary’s editor for sixteen years.
More than 91 million copies of her books have sold in more than twenty countries and fourteen languages. And many of her stories have been adapted for television and film.
Beverly Cleary was predeceased by her husband, Clarence Cleary, and is survived by their two children, Malcolm and Marianne, three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.