Beverly Cleary - Author
Beverly Cleary, 90, is the beloved author of more than 30 books, including Ramona Quimby, Age 8; Dear Mr. Henshaw; The Mouse and the Motorcycle; and Henry Huggins. Ramona first appeared as a character in the 1950s. The most recent Ramona book, Ramona's World, was published in 1999.
RIF: You had difficulty learning to read as a child. How did you overcome that?
Beverly Cleary: I had a very wise mother. She always kept books that were my grade level in our house. One rainy afternoon I picked up a book to look at the pictures and realized I was reading and enjoying what I read.
RIF: Did you read aloud to your children (fraternal twins)? Did they read your books?
BC: Yes, I did read aloud to them. When I was a child, there was no TV and not everyone had a radio, so my mother read to us. When I was a mother, I was surrounded by distractions. But with twins, reading aloud to them was the only chance I could get to sit down. They loved being read to. I read them picture books until they were reading on their own.
I had read them my books aloud before they were published. Other than that, I really don’t know if they read them or not.
RIF: Do you have a favorite children's book, other than your own?
BC: People are usually surprised to hear this, but I don't really read children's books.
RIF: You must get a lot of fan letters from children. Do you have any favorites or memorable ones?
BC: I’m very surprised at the high number of boys who have written to say that reading my books was hard work but worth it. I have many loyal boy readers.
Some of the letters are little novels. One girl wrote “My mom and I are poor but we’re making it.” Another wrote, “My mother put me in a children’s home and I love it.” Hearing those things just makes me wonder about childhood today. I didn’t get letters like that when I first started writing 50 years ago. You can write a novel inspired by one of those sentences. I don’t plan to, however.
RIF: You've written for teenagers and younger children. Is there an age you relate to most?
BC: I enjoy writing for 3rd and 4th graders most of all. Reading meant so much to me in the 3rdgrade – that’s when I discovered it was enjoyable. When I was a librarian, I remember so many other children made same discovery at that age.
RIF: You've also written from the point of view of both boys and girls. Is one easier than the other?
BC: Well, I’ve never been a boy. But I was a very observant child. The boys in my books are based on boys in my neighborhood growing up.
RIF: Ramona's been around since the 1950s. Have you had to "update" her?
BC: No, I haven’t. For one thing, Ramona lives in one of the most stable neighborhoods in the United States. I don’t think children’s inner feelings have changed. They still want a mother and father in the very same house; they want places to play. I feel that childhood internally hasn’t changed. But the exterior circumstances have certainly changed for many children. The world is not the safe place it was when I was growing up. One child wrote and was amazed that Ramona and her sister could walk to the park alone. I think maybe they still could in their neighborhood, but in most neighborhoods they couldn’t.
RIF: You have some great animal characters, like Socks and Ribsy. Did you know any animals like them?
BC: I grew up before there were strict leash laws, and there was a “Ribsy” in every neighborhood waiting after school for a boy, wandering around checking on things. And we did have a cat very much like Socks.
RIF: What about Ralph S. Mouse? Did you ever make friends with a mouse yourself?
BC: Yes, I did. When my children went to camp, they were taken to a country fair. The camp allowed them to buy something. My son bought a mouse, and my daughter bought a hamster. When they got home, we were brave about it and got cages. The little mouse was a very appealing character. I’d be making breakfast in the morning, and the mouse would be standing there in his cage with his little paws on the bars.
RIF: Do you have any rituals or traditions you follow when you write?
BC: When I first start a book, I tell myself firmly to sit there so I can get it started. It’s usually hard to start. I don’t necessarily start with the beginning of the book. I just start with the part of the story that’s most vivid in my imagination and work forward and backward from there. For about a week, I have to be firm with myself.
RIF: Did you ever want to be anything other than a writer?
BC: In the 3rd or 4th grade, I wanted to be a ballerina. I changed my mind and decided I wanted to write children’s books.
RIF: Is Ramona based on an actual person?
BC: People often think that I was Ramona as a child. I wasn’t, but I had many of the same feelings that she did, but I didn’t do the things she did. Many children tell me they feel like Ramona.
RIF: Why is Portland, Oregon the setting for Ramona and many of your other characters?
BC: That’s the setting I knew as a child. I know what it’s like to be a child in Portland.
Write to Beverly Cleary!
c/o HarperCollins Children's Books
1350 Sixth Avenue
New York, NY 10019