Spotlight on Beverly Cleary: Children's Book Must-Haves

Long before a girl named Beatrice and her pesky little sister Ramona came to be, another little girl by the name of Beverly Bunn lived on a farm in Oregon. There was no public library in her little town until Beverly’s mother persuaded the state to send books so that she could run a tiny library out of a room inside of a bank building. Being surrounded by books encouraged the struggling reader to keep trying. As she grew up, Beverly went to college, earned two degrees and became a children’s librarian before eloping with a young man named Clarence Cleary.

Mr. and Mrs. Cleary had twins –a boy and a girl—and she went about her daily tasks as a librarian until she finally decided to write some books of her own. Her first children’s book, Henry Huggins, was published in 1950. Beatrice “Beezus” Quimby debuted in the second book in the Henry Huggins series, and the ever-popular Beezus and Ramona hit bookstore shelves in 1955.

Beverly Cleary published dozens of children’s books from 1955 until 2005. She has won numerous awards, including the Newbery Medal, the National Book Award, and the American Library Association’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. In addition, she was named a 2000 Library of Congress “Living Legend”, and even has an award named after her: The Beverly Cleary Children’s Choice Award, which is given to an author based on the votes of children.

As of 2018, the centenarian lives in Carmel, California.

Beezus and Ramona

As mentioned, Beatrice — called Beezus because her little sister can’t quite pronounce her name correctly — made her first appearance in the 1952 book Henry and Beezus. In Beezus and Ramona, which came along in 1955, we view life through the eyes of bright, nine-year-old Beezus, who is continually annoyed with her four-year-old sister Ramona’s behavior.

Longing for the friendship and special bond she sees between her mother and her Aunt Beatrice, Beezus resents her own sibling’s irresponsible and irrational antics, as well as her own feelings of animosity towards the younger girl.

While they may not become the best of buddies overnight, Beezus has an eye-opening experience when she discovers Aunt Beatrice and her mom didn’t always get along so well.

In 2010, a live action film called Ramona and Beezus premiered starring Selena Gomez and Joey King.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle

Ralph S. Mouse is not a kid with a funny last name. He is, in fact, a mouse who happens to reside in the dilapidated Mountain View Inn, yearning for a more exciting life. When the opportunity for adventure arises, Ralph doesn’t hesitate to take it.

A boy named Keith who visits the hotel with his family leaves a toy motorcycle on the nightstand. When the humans are away, Ralph attempts to ride it and fails. Keith discovers the mouse with his motorcycle and teaches him how to ride. Keith generously allows Ralph to enjoy the motorbike at night, while the boy and his family sleep. But dangers come into play with Ralph’s thrilling new pastime.

Two more books – Runaway Ralph and Ralph S. Mouse – follow this 1965 publication to complete the series of books based on the daring rodent.

Dear Mr. Henshaw

The author veers away from light-hearted children’s stories in this 1983 book about a boy named Leigh who writes a letter to his favorite author.

This Newbery Medal-winning book begins with second grader Leigh Botts writing a letter to his favorite author named Boyd Henshaw as part of a class assignment. Much to Leigh’s surprise, the author responds. The pair continues to correspond throughout the years, with much of the letter-writing taking place when Leigh reaches the sixth grade.

Ten-year-old Leigh moves to a new town and starts at a new school following the divorce of his parents. His letters to Mr. Henshaw describe the school, where someone constantly steals food from his lunch and he has yet to make any friends. Leigh also shares with the author that he misses his truck driver dad and his dog Bandit, who travels the country in his father’s big rig.

While the story may not have a well-defined happily ever after ending, Leigh does navigate the bumps and bruises of life with the help of several caring adults.

Ramona the Brave

In the third book in the Ramona Quimby series, Ramona is experiencing several transitions. She is about to enter first grade, her mother begins to work outside of the home, she is learning how to read, and the family is building an addition to their home, which for the time being, will be Ramona’s new, all-to-herself bedroom.

Although Ramona prides herself on her great bravery, her spirits are dampened by several events as she begins first grade. Her classmates laugh at her, the teacher accuses her of cheating, and she falls, skinning her knee, on the way home from school. To top it all off, she comes home to learn that the new bedroom is ready and she will begin sleeping there all alone without her big sister’s company or protection.

Finally, a scary experience that involves Ramona getting lost and encountering a mean dog results in the young girl digging deep to once again unearth the bravery that she had temporarily forgotten.

It’s impossible to go wrong when choosing a book by this beloved author. Considering your child’s age and interests, then picking a book featuring a protagonist with whom they will likely relate is a sure way to select a winner!

Which of Beverly Cleary’s books do you enjoy reading with the kids? Who are some other children’s book authors/illustrators whose work you admire? Share with us!

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