Sixty-three years ago, a librarian from Yakima, Washington, kept hearing the same complaint from her youngest visitors: They had nothing to read. Tired of fairy tales and dull Dick-and-Jane readers, they wanted stories about kids like themselves – average grade-schoolers dealing with parents, siblings, school and pets. The librarian decided to try writing one herself.
The librarian’s name was Beverly Cleary, and that book, Henry Huggins, started a writing career that has earned her numerous awards, a library holiday in her honor – and even a doll in her likeness! Most of all, her works have entertained generations of children and inspired such writers as Judy Blume and Jon Scieszka.
Cleary recently turned 97 (!), and her birthday, April 12, has been designated “Drop Everything and Read Day” in honor of her passion for helping children develop a love for books.
Although all of her books are a delight, here are 10 we especially recommend for your child’s library. If you haven’t read them in a while, you’ll love rediscovering them too!
Happy (belated) birthday, Beverly Cleary!
10 of Beverly Cleary’s Best Books! 1 of 11
Henry Huggins 2 of 11
Cleary's celebrated career began with this tale of a third-grader whose new dog turns his boring life upside down. Henry and his friends are based on Cleary's own neighbors from her childhood in rural Oregon - and yes, there is a real Klickitat Street!
Beezus and Ramona 3 of 11
Anyone who's ever dealt with a pesky younger sibling (or a bossy older one) can relate to the problems of the Quimby sisters. Beezus tries to stay patient when Ramona scribbles in a library book, interrupts her checkers games and invites all the neighborhood toddlers over for a playdate. But can she ever forgive her preschool sis for ruining her birthday cake?
Ramona the Pest 4 of 11
Cleary once said that she didn't know enough about kindergarteners to write a book about one. After her children were born, she changed her mind and started the Ramona series. (Who can forget the song about the "dawnzer" or Ramona's question about how Mike Mulligan went to the bathroom?)
The Mouse and the Motorcycle 5 of 11
Adventurous Ralph S. Mouse gets his first taste of freedom - and friendship - when a boy named Keith comes to stay at the Mountain View Inn. A toy red motorcycle provides Ralph with an escape from his cramped quarters and pesky cousins.
Mitch and Amy 6 of 11
Fraternal twins Mitch and Amy share the same birthdate, but not much else. Their differences lead to endless arguments and teasing - until they realize they need to band together against a school bully. Cleary's own twin son and daughter inspired her title characters.
Otis Spofford 7 of 11
Cleary's stories are famous for their realism and humor - and they don't get more realistic or humorous than the adventures of Otis. He's got a heart of gold, but he just can't help stirring up a little excitement wherever he goes.
Dear Mr. Henshaw 8 of 11
Cleary's Newbery Medal-winning book is a departure from her more lighthearted series. In letters to his favorite author, Leigh Botts pours out his feelings about his parents' divorce, his adjustment to a new school and a lunch thief.
Ellen Tebbits 9 of 11
After writing Henry Huggins, Cleary chose a female heroine for her next book. Although Ellen may not be as well known as Beezus and Ramona, she's still a lovable and very relatable character. Ellen and her new bestie, Austine, are inseparable - they even ask their mothers to make matching dresses for them! - until a fight threatens to tear them apart for good.
Ramona and Her Father 10 of 11
This third book in the Ramona series finds the Quimby family tightening their belts when Ramona's dad is laid off from his job. But Ramona, imaginative as ever, tries to come up with ways to boost the household income. (We still think she'd make a great commercial actress.)
Jean and Johnny 11 of 11
Cleary wrote several books for teen audiences as well. Some of the details in these novels may be dated (this was the era of saddle shoes, home ec classes and trips to the soda shop for Cokes), but the basic situations are still relevant today. In this book, sophomore Jean develops a crush on a senior boy who calls her "cute," only to learn the hard way that he's just not that into her.
[Photos: via Amazon]