I’ve been spending time with an old friend these past few days. You may know her well, too. She was born 100 years ago- actually, birthday 101 is almost here. Her earliest years were spent as a farm girl, but later she became a city girl. She could not wait to go to school to learn to read. She always knew she wanted to write, too. School almost killed both. Books saved her. And later, write, she did.
Some of her characters were probably your childhood friends as they were mine, and as they still are for children today. A bunch of ordinary kids- neighborhood friends and siblings, pets with personality, and more. The name of the first one just came to her when she started to write, then his personality and stories developed out of memories of the kids who populated the city blocks of her youth, and those she interacted with as a children’s librarian. Her most well-known character came about when she realized some of her characters needed siblings, and she gave one a little sister, primarily to explain the origin of that primary character’s unusual name.
She would find the germ of a plot from memory or imagination, choose words because she liked the sound of them, used advice from her mother- make it funny, people always like to read something funny, and also remembered words from her favorite college professor who said the proper subject of the novel is universal human experience. She also relied on another professor’s three-hundred words a day assignment and made herself write daily. She vowed to ignore trends and not allow money to influence decisions about her books. She relied on her own imagination and wrote more than 35 books, the first published in 1959 and the last in 1999.
Did you guess? I’ve been reading Beverly Cleary’s two memoirs, Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet. Now I’m ready to revisit Ramona, Beezus, Henry, Ellen, Otis, and the rest of them.