Beverly Cleary turns 100 on April 12. As a budding writer, she was one of my favorite authors as a young reader. Like myself, she wrote from real life experiences and has many other writers that said she was their model.
In the March 25 article on the Today Show site, she recalled that most of what she read as a child in school came from England. The children seemed to come from wealthy families with nannies and horse drawn carts. She found this unrealistic, because it did not reflect her life back then. The here and now was how she wrote. That was why generations of readers loved her books as this blogger has.
The shame for me was not knowing any black authors before graduating high school or college. Most of what was read to me in special education and after being mainstreamed, or moved to a regular classroom, came from the teacher’s choices, which they read after recess to calm us. At least my third grade teacher allowed books from home, provided they were not comic books or fan magazines, like Mad or Cracked, The only book read in class by Beverly Cleary was Ribsy. This whetted my appetite leading me to read other books by her.
As for myself, writing what was known by me worked. It was great advice that came from my family. Being disabled was something that was known by me, but my stories don’t reflect that or its trappings. My characters weren’t culturally specific or limited to a defined race. That’s why science fiction and fantasy works for me. Parallel worlds were more interesting than whining about my limitations anyway. My hope was to cross gender lines as Eric Jerome Dickey did with The Other Woman, when he wrote from the female point of view.
Seeing some of myself in Beverly Cleary’s characters like Ramona, Beezus and Henry Higgins were refreshing because they weren’t from a different era or had a time stamp on them. If I wasn’t pestering my brother, like Ramona, who pestered Beezus, my younger sister bothered me a lot, like Ramona, who also pestered Henry Higgins. In the first book read by me, Ramona corrected an elder, whom all children were taught to show respect, saying that ‘Harry’s name was actually Henry.’ My mother bought these books for my sister to encourage reading, but they ended up in my hands also, just like Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing and Superfudge.
The biggest satisfaction in reading this book, after hearing Ribsy, was how Henry and Beezus came up with a solution to get Ramona to stop bothering Henry when he delivered newspapers.