Today is the 100th birthday of outstanding children’s author Beverly Cleary. She is most well-known for her funny, laugh-aloud, homespun tales featuring Henry Huggins, Beezus, Ramona (the Pest) and the Mouse and the Motorcycle, all beloved characters who have stood the test of time and are still well-read today.
Aside from a biography about Queen Elizabeth and her playhouse, which I mentioned several years ago on this blog, the earliest “novel” I recall reading was the Luckiest Girl by Beverly Cleary. It was published in 1958 — just imagine! It was a coming of age story for pre-teens, a romance which set in place my longstanding partiality for this genre. I think I must have read it in 1962 around the age of 12.
The cover depicted a girl in a pink raincoat with a black velvet collar. Shelley, the girl, wanted a yellow slicker like all of the other girls in her class, but her parents refused and Shelley was stuck with the pink coat. She stood out like a sore thumb, much to her dismay and humiliation. I really identified with Shelley. My parents were strict and we had little extra money to indulge me and my sisters in the latest trends of kids’ fashion. Typically we got three new outfits as the school year began and they rotated with our older clothes, which in turn became hand-me-downs. I was the luckiest girl in my family as I was the oldest.
I can clearly remember having a huge fight with my dad over whether or not I could wear lipstick in 7th grade to my Confirmation! He finally relented as my mother, aunts and teenage neighbor girls — Judy, Linda and Sis, pleaded my case. I only wear lipstick now on special occasions, probably some deep-seeded, principle-only victory.
Shelley — the Luckiest Girl — got a reprieve when she was sent for the school year to live in California with an old friend of her mom’s. There, she gets a taste of freedom she never imagined at home. And when she meets Hartley, a boy who wants to be a writer, and Philip, a boy on the basketball team, what a dilemma — sigh! It’s first love. This book was bound to make a lasting impression on a young, wanna-be rebel girl like me.
Happy birthday and thanks, Beverly Cleary. Ms. Cleary lives in California and is assured an enduring place in children’s literature, having won the Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw and having had both Ramona Quimby, Age 8 and Ramona and Her Father named as Newbery Honor Books. Cleary also won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the American Library Association for “substantial and lasting contributions to children’s literature”. She was a great read then, as she is now.