Beverly Cleary, author

Beverly Cleary Speaks to Highlights

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Curious, Creative, Caring, and Confident™
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Cleary, who struggled to read as a child, talked to Highlights about children, children's fiction, and reading.

Born in 1916, Beverly Clearly spent her early years on a small farm in Yamhill, Oregon. She struggled to learn to read and didn't become a confident reader until third grade. After college and library school, Beverly became a children's librarian in Yakima, Washington. She then married Clarence Cleary and had twins. An astute observer of human nature, Beverly [wrote because she] longed for more honest depictions of characters in children's fiction. Beverly Cleary's first book, Henry Huggins, was published in 1950. Since then, children worldwide have read her stories, including Newbery Award winner Dear Mr. Henshaw and the Ramona series.

Why do you think kids today still relate to your characters, including Henry, Ramona, and Beezus?

I think it's because I describe the inner emotions of the children. I don't just tell what they do. I don't think that the inner emotions of children change. Children still want a home with two parents, a neighborhood in which it is safe to play, and a pet.

Over the years you've received thousands of letters from kids. Have children's hopes and concerns changed?

More children today want to be famous. But they don't seem to recognize that being famous involves hard work.

You set out to write books for "kids like us"—the kids who weren't into reading. What draws those kids to a story?

I think the boy who said that ["kids like us"] meant ordinary American kids. At the time he said it, books for boys were about pirates or pioneers—there weren't contemporary stories. I wrote about the sort of neighborhood in which I grew up.

In the past you’ve said that wherever your parents lived was home. How did they convey that sense of security?

My mother didn't work outside the home, and I didn't know any mothers who did. I went to school and came home and played in the neighborhood with the other kids. If any of us misbehaved, one of the parents would tell our parents. The community agreed on what was proper for children to do.

The parents in your books face real-life challenges, such as job loss and divorce. How do you go about creating parent characters that are supportive but real?

There was a time when my father lost his job. I drew on that when I wrote Ramona and Her Father. A few boys asked me to write about a child whose parents were divorced. I had no experience with divorce and made up Dear Mr. Henshaw from observations and my imagination.

How can parents encourage kids to read more?

By reading aloud to them. When I was very young, Mother took me to the library once a week. I read to my own children in the evening before they went to bed. Then my husband went down the hall and sang to them.

What other advice can you share with parents?

Set a good example for your children by reading books yourself for pleasure.