Thoughts on Beverly Cleary

By Jonathan W. Sweet

She lived a good long life, but I’m still sad to hear of the death yesterday of Beverly Cleary at 104.

I was asked for a recent virtual appearance to name five authors that inspired me, and she was one of the five. On its face that might have seemed surprising as the others were closer to what I write: Lawrence Block, Robert B. Parker, Max Allan Collins and Stephen King.

But when I started writing as a kid, it was Beverly Cleary who I first tried to mimic. I still remember reading Mouse & the Motorcycle, the first “red spine” book I read from the school library. (Books in our library at Windsor Elementary were sorted by color with red being the most difficult.)

I thrilled to the further adventures of Ralph S. Mouse, eagerly devoured the tales of Ribsy and Henry Huggins, laughed at the stories of Beezus and Ramona. She wrote about kids like me and the kids I grew up with and made me want to write about them.

As a parent, I got to read them to my kids, some of the first chapter books we read together. I can remember reading Ribsy to my daughter and her being afraid to finish it because she was worried Henry’s dog wouldn’t make it home.

It’s a testament to her skill as a writer that I didn’t even realize until I was an adult that some of those books had been written 30 years before I was reading them myself and more than 50 years before I was reading them to my kids.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I feel like it might be time to break out that battered copy of Dear Mr. Henshaw.

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