100 Candles for Cleary

Beverly Cleary celebrated a centennial today.

Ramona with Guts, by Louis Darling

Ramona with Guts, by Louis Darling

If, like me, you grew up devouring her books and secretly believing you were one of her more misunderstood characters, then I suggest you read this tribute; but first prepare to pine for your lost youth. (The very next thing I wanted to do was track down a complete volume of Beverly Cleary classics and let good ol’ Beezus and Ramona put me to sleep for the rest of the week.)

Cleary is, of course, known best for her tender, amusing and true-to-life children’s books. But reading a bit more about her, I was pleased to discover that she also wrote two memoirs, which will soon be added to the stack of books that looms precariously on my nightstand, threatening to bury me in my own bed of neglected commitments.

Still, I’m particularly interested in her autobiographical study of the forgotten art of laissez-faire parenting, of which it appears both Cleary and her father came out on the other side smiling.

…her father, laissez-faire parented to the extreme, was sent to the butcher shop for beefsteak at age fifteen. “Instead of buying the meat, he continued, by what means I do not know, to eastern Oregon, where he worked on ranches all summer,” she writes. When Cleary asked her grandmother if she had worried about his disappearance, she said, “Oh, my, no.” They knew he’d be back, and he was, three months later. “All his father said was, ‘Did you bring the beefsteak?’ ”

Lately I can’t help but think, God forbid I raise a kid without guts like this

So, after 100 years, I have one thing to say to Beverly Cleary: Go get ’em, kid.


Original art: by Louis Darling.

Excerpt above: from Sarah Larson’s Beverly Cleary, Age 100 in The New Yorker.