Children’s author Beverly Cleary dies at the age of 104

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Beverly Cleary, the celebrated children’s author whose memories of her childhood were shared with millions through the likes of Ramona and Beezus Quimby and Henry Huggins, has died aged 104.

Cleary’s publisher HarperCollins announced that the author died on Thursday in Northern California, where she had lived since the 1960s.

No cause of death was given.

Trained as a librarian, Cleary did not start writing books until her early 30s when she wrote Henry Huggins, published in 1950.

Children worldwide came to love the adventures of Huggins and neighbours Ellen Tebbits, Otis Spofford, Beatrice “Beezus” Quimby and her younger sister, Ramona.

They inhabit a down-home, wholesome setting on Klickitat Street, a real street in Portland, Oregon, the city where Cleary spent much of her youth.

Among the Henry titles were Henry And Ribsy, Henry And The Paper Route and Henry And Beezus.

Ramona, perhaps her best-known character, made her debut in Henry Huggins with only a brief mention.

“All the children appeared to be only children so I tossed in a little sister and she didn’t go away. She kept appearing in every book,” she said in a March 2016 telephone interview from her California home.

Cleary herself was an only child and said the character was not a mirror.

“I was a well-behaved little girl, not that I wanted to be,” she said.

“At the age of Ramona, in those days, children played outside.

“We played hopscotch and jump rope and I loved them and always had scraped knees.”

In all, there were eight books on Ramona between Beezus And Ramona in 1955 and Ramona’s World in 1999.

Books on a bookshelf at Hay Castle at Hay Festival in Powys, Wales (Ryan Phillips/PA)
Books on a bookshelf at Hay Castle at Hay Festival in Powys, Wales (Ryan Phillips/PA)

In 1981, Ramona And Her Mother won the National Book Award.

Cleary was not writing recently because she said she felt “it’s important for writers to know when to quit”.

“I even got rid of my typewriter.

“It was a nice one but I hate to type.

“When I started writing I found that I was thinking more about my typing than what I was going to say, so I wrote it long hand,” she said in March 2016.

Although she put away her pen, Cleary re-released three of her most cherished books with three famous fans writing forewords for the new editions.

Actress Amy Poehler penned the front section of Ramona Quimby, Age 8; author Kate DiCamillo wrote the opening for The Mouse And The Motorcycle; and author Judy Blume wrote the foreword for Henry Huggins.

She was named a Living Legend in 2000 by the Library of Congress.

In 2003, she was chosen as one of the winners of the National Medal of Arts and met President George W. Bush.

She is lauded in literary circles far and wide.

Cleary was born Beverly Bunn on April 12 1916, in McMinnville, Oregon, and lived on a farm in Yamhill until her family moved to Portland when she was school-age.

She was a slow reader, which she blamed on illness and a mean-spirited first-grade teacher who disciplined her by snapping a steel-tipped pointer across the back of her hands.

Cleary graduated from junior college in Ontario, California, and the University of California at Berkeley, where she met her husband, Clarence.

They married in 1940; Clarence Cleary died in 2004.

They were the parents of twins, a boy and a girl born in 1955 who inspired her book Mitch And Amy.

Her books have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and inspired Japanese, Danish and Swedish television programmes based on the Henry Huggins series.

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