Beverly Cleary was born on April 12, 1916, in McMinnville, Oregon, about an hour outside of Portland. Beloved author, daughter, spouse, and librarian (she was even named a “Living Legend” by the 2000 Library of Congress), Cleary knew from a young age that she loved books and reading. She began writing and telling stories that kids could identify with after hearing concerns from her children at school. After publishing her first story, Henry Huggins in 1950, Cleary began her journey as a published author, writing over forty books that were translated in twenty-nine languages, and receiving countless awards. It’s easy to say that one could not go through their life without encountering her name or her stories at least once.
With her recent passing on March 25, 2021, the world has collectively mourned the loss of one of the greatest authors in our history. It all started here in Oregon, where she took inspiration from her early childhood memories growing up in areas such as Portland and Yamhill. With little pieces of home woven throughout, let’s take a look at some of Cleary’s most notable works and how they connect to her life in Oregon.
- Henry Huggins (1950)
- Beezus and Ramona (1950)
- A Girl From Yamhill (1988)
Cleary’s first published book followed the story of Henry, his dog, and his neighbors, including some familiar names: Beezus and Ramona. Cleary explained that her first book took much inspiration from her own childhood and the neighborhood kids that she grew up with in Oregon, as well as the kids she knew from school as a librarian. Because Cleary spent most of her time in the Portland area, the Henry Huggins book series showcases familiar Portland landmarks, including Grant Park, where Henry was well-known for hunting nightcrawlers, and Knott Street, where Henry had his infamous paper route.
The main characters in what is probably her most popular book series, Beezus, and her younger sister, Ramona, were first introduced in the Henry Huggins books. Known for their dynamic duo of personalities, the sisters have adventures all over town, even in their very own home located on Klickitat Street in Northeast Portland. Other spots around the city include the Rite Aid on NE 41st, where the Colossal Market from the books is located, and Ramona’s school, Cedarhurst Elementary, is based on Portland’s own Laurelhurst School. The Multnomah County Library even features a stonewall map titled “Walking With Ramona” that maps out the areas that are mentioned throughout the book series so you can walk along the same paths! The books also inspired the 2010 film, Ramona and Beezus, starring Selena Gomez and Joey King. The movie was a box office hit, earning over twenty-seven million dollars.
Although not as well known as her children’s books, Cleary also wrote and published an autobiography about her childhood and early teen years in Oregon. She expresses the difficulties that she had connecting with those in her family and her struggles with learning how to read. She grew up more independent than most would have thought, and her stories are not only inspired by her childhood, but they are also a recreation of what she wished her childhood was like. Cleary opens up and brings forth raw emotions as readers take a look at the woman behind the books. Her yearning for a relationship with her mother and missing her father, who was away so many hours of the day due to his job, are just some examples of what shaped Cleary’s life as she began her writing career.
Many people know the name, “Beverly Cleary” but not everyone knows the story behind the name. With so many iconic characters and series, Cleary has given a name to the Portland area and showcased its beauty through each of her books. The rest of the world will miss her, but the Oregon community in particular will feel her loss the hardest. While she may not be able to recount these stories in person any longer, her words will live on forever and continue to inspire readers of all ages and backgrounds. She not only wrote for herself and her imagined childhood, but for every child out there.