Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Beverly Cleary's memoirs.

The 94-year-old Beverly Cleary is beloved for her books featuring Henry Huggins, his dog Ribsy, Otis Spofford, and Beezus and Ramona Quimby (see details on the upcoming Ramona and Beezus film here), but her two books of memoirs, A Girl from Yamhill (1988) and My Own Two Feet (1995), are equally delightful. Do not be fooled by the "juvenile biography" designation; the memoirs speak eloquently to adults with Cleary's clear-eyed accounts of struggles during the depression, tensions with her controlling mother, experiences with a creepy uncle, parental disapproval over her romance with fellow student Clarence Cleary ("No one on either side of the family had ever married a Catholic"), and determination to attend college to become a children's librarian despite fiscal hardship. Today's librarians may be a bit amused by this statement: "Miss Schaeffer cautioned me that the library board would fire without notice any librarian seen drinking or smoking in a public place. I did not find this a problem" (My Own Two Feet 78–79). (I was unaware that librarians are hellraisers.)

During World War II, Cleary worked at Sather Gate Book Shop in Berkeley, CA, and served as post librarian at Camp Knight and Oakland Regional Hospital, where she observed, "Most doctors . . . read history, biography, and mysteries" (234). Her decision to write a children's book resulted from irritation with a book that read, "'Bow-wow. I like the green grass,' said the puppy. How ridiculous, I thought. No puppy I had known talked like that. Suddenly I knew I could write a better book" (246). The result was Henry Huggins (1950).

About the image: Beverly Cleary in 1938, from the cover of My Own Two Feet.

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