Cleary: Ramona Forever

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Next time you're at your school or public library, check out the "C" section of kids' fiction. Chances are you'll see at least one shelf filled with books by Beverly Cleary.

The author who created characters as memorable as Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins has written 39 children's books, and most libraries have several copies of her most popular titles.

Beverly Cleary turns 90 today. To celebrate her birthday, kids across the country will Drop Everything And Read, just like Ramona does in "Ramona Quimby, Age 8."

Cleary decided to include DEAR time in her books after some of her young readers suggested it. She loved the idea because she recalls being discouraged from reading when she was in school.

"If we finished our work, the teacher would say, 'Now don't read ahead.' But sometimes I hid the book I was reading behind my geography book and did read ahead. You can hide a lot behind a geography book," Cleary says with a laugh that shows she remembers very well what it's like to be a kid.

As a child, Cleary had trouble learning to read, and she remembers clearly the day she became a reader: "One dismal, rainy Sunday afternoon, I picked up a book intending to look at the pictures and discovered I was actually reading and enjoying it. It was 'The Dutch Twins' by Lucy Fitch Perkins. I've been reading ever since."

She also remembers when she knew she would become a writer. "When I was in fifth, sixth or seventh grade . . . the school librarian said I should write children's books when I grew up. It seemed liked a good idea, so I did," she says, giggling again during a telephone interview from her home in California.

Millions of kids around the world are glad she took that librarian's advice.

Carly Earhart, 9, a third-grader at Kerrydale Elementary School in Woodbridge, has read four or five of Cleary's books and doesn't mind at all that the characters don't have DVDs or iPods. "I actually kind of like that her books take place a long time ago," Carly says.

Her classmate Jake Moore, also 9, likes the adventure in Cleary's books. His favorite character is Henry Huggins "because he gets in trouble, like me. Also, I have a dog, and she runs away all the time just like Ribsy," Henry's dog.

Cleary plans to celebrate her birthday with her two children and perhaps some carrot cake. She loves the thought that kids will celebrate as well, by reading. "I hope they enjoy reading my books," she says, pausing and giggling again -- the way only a woman who is 90 but still a child at heart can -- "and other people's books, too."

-- Tracy Grant

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