Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Friday, December 16, 2011

Feminist Fiction Friday--Beverly Cleary

Beverly Cleary is a living legend. (She actually has that title, having been named a "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress in 2000). She's a multi-award-winning writer whose fame is international. She is a promoter of the D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Rea) program. And she is also the first author that I remember being a fan of.  She has written more than 30 books, and I have read every one (yes, even the latest ones). 
One of the reasons I write these Friday posts is to celebrate women writers who write about women. Today the post is about Beverly Cleary, who has been writing YA since before it was cool (and before vampires and aranormal romances hijacked the genre). Her books are funny and warm and smart and while she created indelible male characters like Henry Huggins, she also created Beatrice (Beezus) Quimby and her sister Ramona. (The first book about the sisters, Beezus and Ramona, was published in 1955 and it's still in print, along with many sequels. A movie adaptation of the first book, inexplicably called Ramona and Beezus, came out in 2010.
What I loved about the characters in Cleary's books is that they seemed real in a way that was comforting. Ramona and Beezus and Henry and his dog Ribsy, Otis Spofford and Ellen Tebbits weren't perfect characters but the mischief was harmless and not mean.  that's not to say she ignores serious subjects (as in Dear Mr. Henshaw and Strider), but there's always hope.
Reading the books was kind of like watching The Andy Griffith Show.  People had problems but they were problems that felt "safe."  (At a certain point, that changed in YA, which got grittier and more realistic and a whole lot less FUN.)  Cleary's covers changed wtih the times, but the writing endured.
I graduated from Cleary's books to the Nancy Drew boks and from then, never looked back. It never occurred to me that fictional girls weren't as feisty and entertaining as fictional boys. and I owe it to the former librarian. She published her first book in 1950...just in time for baby-boomers. Her most recent book, Ramona's World, was published in 1999, in time to be discovered by the millennial generation.
She's kept up with the times, too,  unlike so many writers who end up being mired in the past. Check out her friendly website, which has excerpts from the books, character lists, and a fun and games section in addition to the usual book lists and "about" sections. There's a great video interview with her on the author page.
Cleary was born in 1912, which means she will turn 100 on April 12.  I'd love to throw her a party!!


  1. A legend, indeed!

    As a young girl, I first came across Ms Cleary's 'treasures' at the local library, and quickly immersed myself in the adventures of the 'kids on Klickitat Street'...Henry, his red bike and 'mutt' Ribsy; Beezus and her kid sister,Ramona; Ramona, who... how shall we say this... 'inspired' me. Her talent for trouble was not restricted to the printed page... not that I'm saying that some of the trouble I got into was Ramona's fault- that would be crazy talk, wouldn't it? LOL!!

    I absolutely loved those stories!

    And, oh how I loved the intrepid Ralph and his motorcycle... who would have thought a tiny mouse could be so daring and adventurous!

    It was not until I was older and in high school that I read the poignant and heart-touching 'FIFTEEN'. I confess to having mixed feelings about that book. It had such clearly defined gender roles, and I read it at a time when I was having serious issues with my 'blossoming womanhood' and as yet undetermined sexuality (a 'pretty' way of saying I was a lesbian, but did not yet know it)... the book really only added to my confusion, yet I could not seem to leave it.

    Beverly Cleary captured the hearts and imaginations of generations. I hope to one day, introduce our child to these wonderful characters.

    Thank you so much, for posting this, Katherine... and bringing back some very precious childhood memories.

  2. Thank you for posting such a thoughtful comment. And especially your thoughts on FIFTEEN. I think if she wrote it now, it might be more helpful to readers who are confused about sex and sexuality and gender and identity.