Trained as a librarian, Cleary didn’t become an author until her early 30s, when she wrote “Henry Huggins,” published in 1950.
She said the book was inspired by a boy who came to the library but wasn’t impressed with the selection.
“He said, ‘Where are the books about kids like us?’ ” Cleary told KidsPost in 2016.
When Cleary encountered the boy, she was trying to write a book about “a sensitive girl.” “No ideas would come. So I started a book about a boy.”
Children worldwide came to love the adventures of Huggins and neighbors Ellen Tebbits, Otis Spofford, Beatrice “Beezus” Quimby and her younger sister, Ramona. They inhabit a down-home, wholesome setting on Klickitat Street — a real street in Portland, Oregon, the city where Cleary spent much of her youth.
Ramona, perhaps her best-known character, made her debut in “Henry Huggins” with only a brief mention.
“All the children appeared to be only children so I tossed in a little sister and she didn’t go away. She kept appearing in every book,” she told the Associated Press in 2016 telephone interview from her California home.
Cleary was an only child and said the character wasn’t based on her.
“I was a well-behaved little girl, not that I wanted to be,” she said. “At the age of Ramona, in those days, children played outside. We played hopscotch and jump rope, and I loved them and always had scraped knees.”
In all, there were eight books on Ramona. “Ramona and Her Mother” earned a National Book Award. Two other Ramona stories were named Newbery Honor books. (An unrelated book, “Dear Mr. Henshaw,” won the Newbery Medal in 1984.)
Cleary said she tried not to play favorites among her characters.
“I like all of them, or I wouldn’t have written about them,” she told KidsPost. “But I supposed Ramona was [my favorite] because I was a little girl.”
After writing more than 40 books, Cleary put away her pen in 1999. More recently she rereleased three of her most cherished books with three famous fans writing forewords for the new editions.
Actress Amy Poehler penned the front section of “Ramona Quimby, Age 8”; author Judy Blume wrote the foreword for “Henry Huggins” and author Kate DiCamillo wrote the opening for the fantasy “The Mouse and the Motorcycle.”
Cleary was born Beverly Bunn on April 12, 1916, in McMinnville, Oregon, and lived on a farm in Yamhill until her family moved to Portland when she was school-age. She was a slow reader, which she blamed on illness and a mean-spirited first-grade teacher.
In third grade she was flipping through a library book called “The Dutch Twins,” which her mother had brought home. She had a revelation.
“I discovered I was reading . . . and enjoying it,” she told KidsPost.
She became an avid reader from then on.
As her 100th birthday neared in 2016, more than a dozen children’s authors — including DiCamillo, R.J. Palacio, Jarrett Krosoczka and Jeff Kinney — shared their appreciation of Cleary with KidsPost. Many of them said Cleary’s greatness as a writer was her ability to make kids see themselves in her books.
“There are no special effects,” Kinney said. “There are no vampires or anything like that. It’s just the magic of ordinary, everyday life.”