Beverly Cleary, Ramona Quimby Creator, Dies At 104 "I think children want to read about normal, everyday kids," Cleary told NPR in 1999. "... I think children like to find themselves in books."
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Children's Author Beverly Cleary, Creator Of Ramona Quimby, Dies At 104

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Children's Author Beverly Cleary, Creator Of Ramona Quimby, Dies At 104

Children's Author Beverly Cleary, Creator Of Ramona Quimby, Dies At 104

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The children's author Beverly Cleary died yesterday in Carmel, Calif. She was 104 years old. Beverly Cleary created some of the most authentic characters in children's literature - Henry Huggins, Ralph S. Mouse and, of course, the feisty, unforgettable Ramona Quimby. Through Ramona, generations of readers tore around the playground, learning to write in cursive, rebelled against tuna fish sandwiches and acquired all the glorious scrapes and bruises (inaudible). For NPR, Zoe Chace has this remembrance of the woman who brought Ramona Quimby to life.

ZOE CHACE, BYLINE: Beverly Cleary's simple idea - to write about the kids in her own neighborhood - ensured that her books have never gone out of print.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BEVERLY CLEARY: I think children want to read about normal, everyday kids. That's what I wanted to read about when I was growing up. I wanted to read about the sort of boys and girls that I knew in my neighborhood and in my school.

CHACE: Her writing style - clear, direct, uncomplicated - was just like the author's own trajectory. She told NPR that she decided to become a children's book author in fifth or sixth grade. By the time she was a Portland, Ore., children's librarian in 1940...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CLEARY: Boys particularly ask, where were the books about kids like us? And there weren't any at that time.

CHACE: So she sat down and wrote "Henry Huggins," her first book about a regular little boy on Klickitat Street in Portland. "Henry Huggins" was a hit upon first printing, but her readers wanted to hear more about the little girl who lived just up the street.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RAMONA AND BEEZUS")

JOHN CORBETT: (As Robert Quimby) Ramona is a bright young student - that's my girl - but lacks focus, often daydreams, disputes the need to spell words correctly and has very little respect for the rules of grammar or rules in general.

CHACE: Ramona Quimby, the most famous of all of Beverly Cleary's characters, was unforgettable, mostly for the mistakes she made. In this clip from the movie "Ramona And Beezus," Ramona's older sister Beezus has just received all A's on her report card. Ramona hid her report card in the freezer. Spelling was never Ramona's subject.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RAMONA AND BEEZUS")

JOEY KING: (As Ramona Quimby) And when I try to be original, she just shoots me down. Like when I invented the word terrifical (ph), she goes, Ramona, that's not a word. And I say, it's a lot funner (ph) word to say. She goes, funner isn't a word, either. I mean, what kind of teacher is that? She can't...

CHACE: Beverly Cleary's memories are cinematically detailed. In her autobiography, "A Girl From Yamhill," she writes about clamping around on tin can stilts and yelling pieface at the neighbor. She was an only child who grew up in Portland during the Depression. When her father lost his job...

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CLEARY: I was embarrassed. I didn't know how to talk to my father. I know he felt so terrible at that time that I just - I guess I felt equally terrible. And I think adults sometimes don't think about how children are feeling about the adult problems.

CHACE: Cleary used her crystal-clear recall to capture the tribulations of young children exquisitely in her books.

BARBARA LALICKI: She was a pioneer in this contemporary, rooted-in-reality kind of book for children, stories about real children.

CHACE: Barbara Lalicki edited "Ramona's World" for HarperCollins, the most recent of the Ramona books. It was published in 1999. Lalicki says that Cleary changed the entire field of writing for children away from fantasy and historical fiction. Beverly Cleary books racked up awards and were constantly reprinted and re-illustrated. Librarians everywhere keep a shelf of just Beverly Cleary. Teachers read the books aloud to their students.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CLEARY: I think deep down inside, children are all the same.

CHACE: NPR asked Beverly Cleary why her books rang true for children decades after they were published.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CLEARY: They want two loving parents, and they would prefer a house with a neighborhood they can play in. They want teachers that they can like. I don't think children themselves have changed that much as the world has changed.

CHACE: And Beverly Cleary, with her honest, straight-talking heroes and heroines, certainly changed it for the better.

Zoe Chace, NPR News.

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