Beverly Cleary was my favourite author when I was a child. I was introduced to her fiction when my grade four teacher, Mrs. Burnett, read Ramona the Pest to the class. I then read every book Cleary wrote, up until the mid-eighties. I was by then sixteen or seventeen years old yet still in love with her tales of Ramona Quimby. Beverly Cleary occupies a special place in my heart as I have such fond memories of laughing with her stories and identifying with her characters and the messes they often found themselves in.
Cleary has written two memoirs, the first, A Girl from Yamhill (1988) and the second, My Own Two Feet (1995).
A constant throughout Cleary’s life is her dominating, oppressive, restrictive and very unhappy mother. Cleary’s fictional mother figures certainly belie the upbringing she had under her own mother’s thumb. Cleary’s mother discouraged her from everything she wanted to do, whether it was a major or minor life event. Mrs. Bunn disapproved of her daughter’s choice of college education, of all her boyfriends and especially her husband, of her decision even to have children, and of her decision to become a children’s author. One might expect Cleary, an only daughter, to rebel or become disillusioned with life and develop addictions or insecurities. As Cleary grew up she simply learned to ignore her mother and do what she wanted anyway, which was in her own way a quiet rebellion.
Each memoir is written in the Cleary style that places the author herself into the lead role. I felt as though I could substitute ten-year-old Beverly Bunn for Ellen Tebbits or Henry Huggins and I would be none the wiser. As I read these memoirs, I was transported back to the mid-seventies when I was reading a new Cleary book every few days, only this time I was laughing along with little Beverly Bunn’s schooltime antics and then cringing and laughing as she faces the public as Mrs. Beverly Cleary, 1940’s librarian.
Cleary tells of some eccentric characters she had to work with while working as a children’s librarian in California in the 1940’s. World War II meant rationing and money and materials were tight. While Cleary worked at a bookstore during busy Christmas seasons, she wrote about a certain Mrs. Herbert:
> This was the same woman who wrote the date on every light bulb installed so the store could be reimbursed if bulbs did not live up to their guarantees.
A Girl from Yamhill tells of Cleary’s life up until she enters college in 1934; My Own Two Feet ends after the publication of her first children’s novel, the enormously successful Henry Huggins in 1950.
I also read the short juvenile biography Meet Beverly Cleary by S. Ward:
a lightweight introduction (24 pages) to the life of the author.