Beverly Cleary turned 100 years old on Tuesday. It's funny, I haven't read a Beverly Cleary book in years, but as soon as I realized it was her birthday there I was again. A kid draped over the arm of my grandmother's couch on a lazy afternoon as the sun went down, just me and Ramona Quimby. There were so many great Beverly Cleary quotes that kids could learn from, so many lessons learned by accident (which is the very best way to learn a thing, I think).
I never owned any of the Ramona Quimby books, I liked taking them out of the school library. I liked checking back to see who else had signed out the same book, who else loved Ramona and Beezus with my level of very real affection. Ramona felt so much like me, as I'm sure she did to all of you. I understood her sticking up hair and her quiet worries. I understood how it felt to be silly, and brave, and afraid and quiet all in the same day, just like Ramona.
So here is to Beverly Cleary on her 100th birthday, after selling 85 million copies of 41 books in her lifetime (so far). I hope kids still love her as much as we did, because there is so much goodness in her stories, so much she got right. Here are just a few examples.
Mark Your Own Path
Beverly Cleary was in her 30s before she tried to write a book. She had been a librarian before World War II and was working in a bookstore when she decided to try her hand at writing something that would last in the hearts of children. As she told NPR in 1999,
I think children want to read about normal, everyday kids. That's what I wanted to read about when I was growing up. I wanted to read about the sort of boys and girls that I knew in my neighborhood and in my school. ... I think children like to find themselves in books.
Childhood Is Universal
There is a sameness to our human experience, especially childhood. An unexpected day of sunshine, the fur of a puppy's belly, Fruit Loops in a big bowl with cold milk. Whatever your experience was, whatever joy you felt, chances are there is another child out there who feels it just as deeply.
Fantasy Is Often The Best Policy
While we sometimes worry that our kids are too removed from real life, sometimes the right kind of removal is the only option. Sometimes piracy is needed, even if it's silly.
Things Can't Always Be Perfect
"I guess that’s what growing up is," Cleary writes in her book, The Luckiest Girl. "Saying good-by to a lot of things. Sometimes it is easy and sometimes it isn’t. But it is all right."
This is a hard lesson not just for kids, but for parents. It's awful to think of our kids experiencing loss or sadness. But it can be a healthy thing to see that life does, indeed, go on.
Unspoken Bonds Are Often The Strongest
"Neither the mouse nor the boy was the least bit surprised that each could understand the other," reads one passage of Beverly Cleary's The Mouse And The Motorcycle. "Two creatures who shared a love for motorcycles naturally spoke the same language."
Making friends can be tough on kids. They don't always know what to expect or how to behave or how to know if their fond feelings are returned. Perhaps this is a good reminder that playing in the dirt beside someone and just being can sometimes lead to friendship. No words needed.
Take Care Of What You Have
In Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Cleary describes one character, writing plainly,
He was dressed as if everything he wore had come from different stores or from a rummage sale, except that the crease in his trousers was sharp and his shoes were shined.
The temptation to want more is strong and sort of easy. But the image of this character, wearing secondhand clothes with polished shoes, reminds kids (and us) that it doesn't matter how much you have, so long as you take pride in who you are.
Accidental Learning Is The Best
"One rainy Sunday when I was in the third grade," Cleary once stated, "I picked up a book to look at the pictures and discovered that even though I did not want to, I was reading. I have been a reader ever since."
Beverly Cleary learned at a young age something many of us don't understand for years: Learning by accident is the sort of learning that stays with us. Sitting at a desk all day is all well and good, but it's getting outside, engaging with the wide world around, that actually teaches us the real lessons.
So take a moment today to teach a kid something purely by accident. Beverly Cleary will thank you for it.