Today is the official kick-off of Women's Lit Month Event on Lost in Books! Throughout the month we will be celebrating women in literature and women who write literature. We have lots of great posts coming up so keep an eye out for more!
Today Gregory Schroeder of Blog the Eclectic and GSBookTutor discusses author Beverly Cleary, why she's beloved by millions, and how she has moved females forward.
Beverly Cleary is one of those authors whose books appeal across the entire spectrum of young readers. Her books are based on the ideas that the stories should be simple, deal with universal human experiences and filled with humor. With over 90 million copies printed she has been very successful with that triumvirate. She has also won many awards, most notably the Newbery Medal in 1984 for Dear Mr. Henshaw and the National Book Award in 1981 for Ramona and Her Mother.
Unlike some authors of books for children (Matt Christopher - boys, and Ann Martin - girls, for example), Cleary is well-known and loved by both boys and girls in huge numbers. She has written series (Henry Huggins) and single titles (Otis Spofford) where the protagonist is a boy with a decidedly male perspective. On the other hand, Ms. Cleary has written a hugely popular series whose protagonists are girls (the Beezus and Ramona Quimby books) as well as single titles (Ellen Tebbits) all with a decidedly female perspective. Finally, she has written fabulous books where the protagonist is a mouse (Ralph S. Mouse, to be exact).
Her books have also grown with the time and stayed relevant. Henry Huggins rides a bicycle and delivers newspapers in idyllic 1950s Oregon. But Leigh Botts is a modern kid with modern troubles - divorce, depression and other ails of growing up - in Dear Mr. Henshaw. 1984's Ramona Forever's write-up in Kirkus Reviews said, in part, "It's a measure of Cleary's talent and acumen that the Quimbys are as credible in the mid-1980s as they were in the mid-1950s."
I read a lot of Ms. Cleary's books as a child in rural Pennsylvania and devoured every one. Henry Huggins, Ralph Mouse, Ribsy were my friends. Fifteen years later my daughter devoured a different set - Ramona, Beezus, Socks, and Leigh were her friends. Cleary's books appeal to all children because they deal with things important to all children in all eras - their feelings, their environment (especially understanding new things), and finding their way in a world dominated by grown-ups who often see things differently.
Cleary wrote two autobiographies, A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet and they are a good place to start to understand this phenomenal author and her inspirations and perspectives. Unfortunately, as technology consumes the lives of younger and younger children they may not have the perspective to understand Ms. Cleary's settings and the actions of the characters (how many children today can relate to having a paper route?) in the future, except, perhaps, as snapshots of a different time (they become historical fiction).
However, Ms. Cleary's legacy will live on as an inspiration to the current generation of children's writters (Judy Blume and Jon Scieszka both list her as a major influence in their work) and, by corollary, the generation after. So, some rainy, lonely night, when everyone else is asleep, pull down your old copy of one of Cleary's books and remember what life was like and appreciate the inspiration that sits beneath the recent hot book you set aside to savor it.