Beverly Cleary turned one hundred years old today. It’s hard to wrap my head around that idea. She was born into a completely different era. Literature and technology and medicine were worlds away from what they are now. Women were still a few years away from being able to vote in America, and World War I was being fought across the sea on the battlefields of Europe.
Yeah, it’s really hard to wrap my head around that. I’m not aware of any other favorite authors from that time period who are still living: Out of curiosity, I looked up when Roald Dahl was born, because I seemed to recall that they were born in similar times. (And because I associate them with one another, since some of my copies of their books were originally my parents’ and were then handed down to me.)
Anyway, it turns out they were born in the same year – within months of each other, in fact. But there’s a sort of connection, or feeling, or SOMETHING that forms when someone you admire from a long long time ago is still alive. You marvel at how lucky you are, with your lives intersecting in this way, living on this planet at the same time. Roald Dahl has been dead for more than a quarter of a century, but Beverly Cleary is still here. Not writing anymore – her last book, Ramona’s World, was published in 1999 – but here she is at one hundred.
I think that another reason why it’s so difficult for me to comprehend this is that no matter how many times I read and reread her books, I always forget when they were published.
I don’t mean that I don’t know when they were published – I actually have a oddly precise memory when it comes to things such as publication dates, since one of the first things I do upon starting a new book is to check the page with all the publishing information, because I’m weird that way – but that those facts never seem very relevant when I’m reading one of her books.
Ramona the Pest was published in 1968. I always forget that. My parents were, like, a year old then but I honestly can’t tell you when the book is supposed to take place. When any of the books are supposed to take place. I mean, they were published over a forty-four-year span.
And I think that’s part of the beauty of her books. They could be from any time within the past few decades. They could be from the 1950s or they could be from today.
I read the Ramona books, the books about Henry Huggins, Dear Mr. Henshaw, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle series with no context as to when they were set, and I just completely accepted that idea. Which I think is noteworthy in and of itself, because the other thing I have a weirdly good memory for are dates and times from books. I don’t even try to memorize them. It just happens.
The obvious exceptions would be her autobiographies – of which I’ve only read one, and of course it was the second one, because I suck at life and at reading too, apparently – but that’s to be expected. Speaking of her autobiographies, I need to pick up the first one, A Girl from Yamhill, because I’ve been meaning to read it for literally YEARS now and I just never got around to reading it in 2014 after I read its sequel, My Own Two Feet.
In fact, I think that’s what I’ll do to celebrate her birthday: Read her first autobiography, and then maybe even reread the second one. It’s a bit late now to celebrate on her actual birthday, but I can do this in the next few weeks as the semester begins to wind down.
Happy birthday, Beverly Cleary. And thank you for the books you wrote.
P.S. Tiny five-year-old me loved the idea of writing to her favorite authors and slightly bigger nineteen-year-old me is still fond of it, so I just may have to see if you still accept fan mail and if so, sit down and write something. I don’t expect you to write back, Ms. Cleary, but I feel like that is a thing I should do because your books were part of my canon of children’s literature.