Allison's Book Bag

Musings Meme: Current Reads #15

Posted on: January 13, 2014

MusingMondaysWhat are you reading right now?
What do you think of it?
Why did you chose it?

Henry Huggins. Ramona Quimby. Ralph S. Mouse. Socks. For anyone who grew up on children’s literature, these names are as familiar as Jane Eyre, Dracula, Tess of the D’ubervilles, and Oliver Twist. Those first names are the creations of Beverly Cleary, whose two-volume memoir is my Current Read for this week. Tomorrow I’ll post an essay inspired by one of her pet books and on Wednesday I’ll review Socks. Save the dates: January 14-15!

BeverlyClearyA standard biography will tell you that Beverly Cleary grew up an only child in Oregon. Although she struggled to read, she eventually improved and even received encouragement to write her own stories. As an adult, she studied to become a librarian, a career at which she met children who complained that there weren’t any books to which they could relate. Their pleas convinced her to help provide young readers with stories to which they could relate. According to Cleary, Henry Huggins and his friends represented all the children she grew up with, as well as those who sat before her during library story hours. Clearly has written more than thirty books for young people and is one of America’s most successful writers. For her lifetime contributions to American literature, Cleary has received the National Medal of Arts, recognition as a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal.


Through Cleary’s first memoir, A Girl From Yamhill, I discovered that her initial years were spent on a farm. There, her father had rules of safety for living on a farm and her mother had rules of etiquette for being a lady. She listened to most of her father’s rules; others she learned the wisdom of the hard way. As for her mother’s rules, Clearly grew up always trying to please her mother, but also feeling as if she failed her. Cleary also alludes to ongoing adult concerns, such as money to pay the mortgage and her mother’s struggle to have more children.

Because of money issues, the family eventually moved to Portland. In the second section of A Girl from Yamhill, I recognized glimpses of incidents in her life that must have inspired her beloved characters. On a happier note, Cleary and neighborhood kids entertained themselves by rollerskating the gentle slopes which formed their block. Her knees were constantly skinned, but she picked herself back up and skated with blood tricking into her half socks. She and neighborhood kids also made stilts out of two-pound coffee cans and twine and clanked around the streets. On a less happy note, first grade confused Cleary. She didn’t understand why some letters were silent, why she couldn’t use her left hand to write, or even why sometimes she was punished. “Soon every school day became a day of fear.” There are also references to pets, ballet, and boys whom she chased around the school yard or otherwise tormented due to having a crush on them.


Through Cleary’s second memoir, My Own Two Feet, I discovered that she attended college in California. The decision had come about partly because of her dad, who watched the increasing tension between Cleary and her mother. He also observed her unhappiness over the relentless pursuit of her by a gentleman whom Cleary disliked. Cleary also finally received permission, because of her mother’s desire for Cleary to have a profession that she could rely on as a source of income. Cleary boarded with her mother’s cousin’s family, in exchange for helping out with chores and the making of cakes. College classes challenged Cleary to write better, as well as introduced her to new ways of thinking and romances.

In the second section of My Own Two Feet, Cleary writes candidly about her struggles to gain independence from her family. She shares stories from library school. To earn her way through, Cleary took on a job as a chambermaid. She struggled with her vision, but for a time had to suffer through headaches because she couldn’t afford glasses. At the end of her first quarter, one instructor informed her, “You have done excellent work in Book Selection, but I am giving you a C because you looked bored.” Wow!

Cleary also shares her frustrations with her parents over her romantic choices. The first time her mother met her future husband, Clarence, she made only limited awkward attempts at conversation. Worse, her mother wore a dress that actually belonged to Cleary. Although her father allowed them to use the family car, and acted civil to Clarence, neither parent agreed to attend Cleary’s wedding to him because Clarence was Roman Catholic.

One of her first jobs, serving as a librarian with the army, also had its high and low moments. For example, at her job interview, the commanding officer told her she could have the job but also “pulled me toward him so that I was standing between his knees, gave me two pats on the bottom….” She learned however to make adversity work for her, managing to gain access even to medical books for their fledging library.

Last, Cleary tells of the day when she finally had time to write, only to discover she felt uncertain of what to say. Thankfully, memories of childhood helped path the way, along with one from her army job when a harried family brought in a dog. Then came the first sentence, “Henry Huggins was in third grade.”


I own about half of Beverly Cleary’s books. Conspicuously missing, because I sold them to afford my own attempts at independence, are the Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby books. These sets are no longer available in hardcover, but I have started seeking them out through secondhand sources. One day my collection of Cleary’s writings will be complete!

9 Responses to "Musings Meme: Current Reads #15"

I actually only recognize Ramona’s name.

Sonia Lal

For boys especially, Henry Huggins is Beverly Cleary’s most famous character. The Henry books also came first in her writing career. Ramona started as a side character, but then eventually got her very own series too.

My daughter had a number of Beverley Cleary’s books but I haven’t read any. Great piece on an interesting author.

Maybe you and your daughter could read one together? 🙂

My daughter is all grown-up now. We do share books, rather she visits and takes all the ones she likes the look of 😉 We are both huge readers

Beverly Cleary is truly one of the great, timeless children’s authors. I have so many great memories of Ramona, Ralph, Henry, Beezus . . . the list goes on and on! Thanks for prompting some nice memories!

I loved her books and so did my children.

Click here to go to Mixed Book Bag

So does every student it seems who has Beverly Cleary’s stories read to them at school. Her books are timeless.

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