12 Incredible Facts About Beverly Cleary

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Moving, relatable, and frequently hilarious, Beverly Cleary’s stories have been captivating readers of all ages for more than 60 years. From Ramona Quimby to Socks the Cat, Cleary's characters—and the tales they inhabit—are still going strong all these decades later. Here’s what you might not know about one of the world’s favorite children’s authors.

1. Beverly Cleary was a former librarian.

After graduating in 1939 from the University of Washington with a Library Science degree, Beverly Cleary worked as a children’s librarian in Yakima.

2. Beverly Cleary helped improve the Leave It to Beaver franchise.

Cleary once wrote a pair of original Leave It to Beaver tie-in stories starring Wally and The Beav which, according to several letters she received, many fans found much more enjoyable than the series’ film adaptation. (Her explanation? “I cut out dear old Dad’s philosophizing.”)

3. There's a Beverly Cleary sculpture garden in Portland, Oregon.

Many of Cleary’s best-known stories were partially set in Portland’s Grant Park (she grew up nearby) and, as a loving nod, the city unveiled statues of Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Ribsy the dog at the park in 1995.

4. Beverly Cleary always sympathized with struggling readers.

Getting put into the lowest reading circle in first grade almost made young Cleary resent books. Phonic lists were a drag and being force-fed Dick & Jane-style narratives was flat-out excruciating. “[We] wanted action. We wanted a story,” she lamented in her autobiography. It was an experience Cleary never forgot. She claimed to have always kept children who might be undergoing similar trials in mind while writing.

5. Beverly Cleary would write and bake simultaneously.

Many authors crank up their favorite tunes during writing sessions, but Cleary had a different approach. “I used to bake bread while I wrote," she once explained. "I’d mix the dough up and sit down and start to write. After a while, the dough would rise and I’d punch it down and write some more. When the dough rose the second time, I’d put it in the oven and have the yeasty smell of bread as I typed.”

6. There's an elementary school in Oregon named in Beverly Cleary's honor.

Beverly Cleary Elementary is an Oregon K-8 school with three campuses in Portland, Oregon.

7. Despite her parents' objections, Beverly Cleary eloped with the man she loved.

“Gerhart” is the pseudonym her memoirs give to the fellow Beverly’s folks actually tried setting her up with, though the pair shared virtually no chemistry. Clarence Cleary, her future husband, was a kind-hearted economics and history student she met in college. He was also Roman Catholic, which didn’t sit well with her Presbyterian parents. Undaunted, Beverly Atlee Bunn eloped and became Beverly Cleary in 1940. The couple remained together until Clarence’s death in 2004.

8. Harper Collins Publishing created a holiday in honor of Beverly Cleary's birthday.

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It's called D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read), and though they encourage you to celebrate all the time, April 12 is the official date in honor of Cleary's birthday.

9. In 2000, the Library of Congress declared Beverly Cleary a "living legend."

This award was exclusively granted to “artists, writers, activists, filmmakers, physicians, entertainers, sports figures, and public servants who have made significant contributions to America’s diverse cultural, scientific, and social heritage.” Cleary received her title in 2000, joining the ranks of Judy Blume, Muhammad Ali, and Madeleine Albright.

10. Beverly Cleary had a wise writing mantra.

When she was still a little girl, Cleary’s mother, an ex-teacher, gave her this advice: “The best writing is simple writing. And try to write something funny. People enjoy reading anything that makes them laugh.” Another tip that stuck with her came from a college professor, who often said, “The proper subject of the novel is the universal human experience.”

11. Beverly Cleary was a cat lover.

Cleary owned several cats over the years. One used to resent having to compete with her typewriter for attention and sat on the keys in protest.

12. Beverly Cleary had a theory about why kids love Ramona Quimby so much.

“Because [Ramona] does not learn to be a better girl. I was so annoyed with the books in my childhood, because children always learned to be ‘better’ children and, in my experience, they didn’t. They just grew, and so I started Ramona … and she has never reformed. [She’s] really not a naughty child, in spite of the title Ramona the Pest. Her intentions are good, but she has a lot of imagination, and things sometimes don’t turn out the way she expected.”

A version of this story originally ran in 2014.