We might have expected the news. Beverly Cleary is 95, after all, we should be glad just that she’s sitting for an interview. But it still struck my heart to see the beloved author say she doesn’t plan to publish any more books.
“I hope children will be happy with the books I've written, and go on to be readers all of their lives,” Cleary told The Atlantic magazine.
Cleary is famed as the creator of Ramona and Beezus and Henry Huggins and other heroes of her wonderful children’s books. Her characters remain so live and real decades after their introduction that my own 5-year-old once demanded to know why Ramona got to walk alone to kindergarten, when he was forced to take my hand just to walk to the bus stop.
Some of Cleary’s most satisfying works, though, are her lesser-known memoirs meant for adult readers, "A Girl From Yamhill" and "My Own Two Feet," which end just as Cleary starts her writing career. I had long hoped for a third volume. (Yes, she can engross readers for two books before she even gets to the piece of the story that most would have assumed is the interesting part.)
Interviewer Rachael Brown asked Cleary how she had balanced raising her own children, born after her career as an author began, while writing for thousands of others. Cleary answered that it wasn’t easy.
“I loved my family and I loved my young career. A neighborhood woman felt that I needed help and offered to come babysit the children. I would write while she looked after them. They would draw pictures and slide them under my door. It worked out nicely,” she told Brown.
Other intriguing bits from their interview: Cleary said that she hasn’t read the Harry Potter series, and rarely reads children’s books. She thought actress Joey King did a good job playing Ramona in the recent movie adaptation, though some scenes were left out from the film that she would have liked to have seen included. She doesn’t think anything will ever replace the pleasure of holding a book and turning its pages. Also, she never goes on the Internet and doesn’t know how it works. (That’s something the Twitter impersonation department might want to check out, as there’s a mostly moribund “Beverly Cleary” account whose updates are dotted with exclamation points and smiley faces, encouraging readers to send her fan mail at a Gmail address.)
The Cleary Q&A was paired online at The Atlantic with a pilgrimage by Brown to Cleary's childhood homes and with an article by Benjamin Schwarz describing what he calls a “stylistic and substantive gap between Cleary’s early and later novels.” I don’t agree with Schwarz’s conclusions, but I was still glad to read a thoughtful take on Cleary’s works, and to vicariously share Brown’s thrill walking down “leafy Klickitat street.”
I’m sad to think that I’ll never again make a fresh visit there through Cleary’s eyes.