Visiting an Old Friend

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.

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8 Responses to Visiting an Old Friend

  1. Ramona says:

    I have Girl from Yamhill, but have never read it. I remember celebrating her 100th bday last year. I love all her books, but especially the Ramona books!

  2. I’m ashamed to say you had me stumped the whole time as to who your friend was. 😶. I should have known that. I didn’t know all the facts you shared about her writing life. I learned a lot!

  3. Awesome post, Diane! I loved these books as a kid, and keep the series on my bookshelf 🙂 I never knew anything about Beverly Cleary, except she invented those books that kept me so entertained as a young child. Thanks for sharing!

    • I loved reading the part when she moved to the city- she lived in Portland, Oregon. I lived in the same area and recognized even street names she mentioned! And she described the grand old building of the Multnomah Public Library where my husband worked and we spent many happy hours.

  4. Fran Haley says:

    I guessed! The age was a good clue. I loved reading about Ribsy and Henry, and the adventures of Ralph S. Mouse. All wonderful. I haven’t read her memoirs but must do so, now. So enjoyed this.

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