Happy 104th Birthday to Beverly Cleary, Patron Saint of Overly Imaginative Children

Happy 104th Birthday to Beverly Cleary, Patron Saint of Overly Imaginative Children
Cleary, second from right, receiving the National Medal of the Arts in 2003. Image: (via Getty)

Beverly Cleary, beloved children’s book author and creator of the one-and-only Ramona Quimby, turns 104 today!

Since 1950, Cleary’s managed to enrapture generations of children with her vast collection of books, including the immensely popular Ramona series, along with books about Henry Huggins (a Ramona contemporary), The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Runaway Ralph, Dear Mr. Henshaw, Muggie Maggie, Ellen Tebbits, etc. etc. etc.. Cleary even won a coveted Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw, and got two Newbery Honor notations for Ramona and Her Father and Ramona Quimby, Age 8.

Like a lot of little girls struggling to “behave”—whatever that means—I long identified with Ramona. Like her, I was a small hellion with an overactive imagination, a bad temper, and a predilection for getting in trouble at school. I memorized every puddle she jumped in on Klickitat Street, pored over every spat she had with Susan with the boing-boing curls, and cringed each time she embarrassed herself at school. It’s been years since I read any of these books, and I remember them vividly. I am 30 years old now, and yet I still well up at the image of Mrs. Quimby offering to help pack Ramona a bag to run away at the end of Ramona and Her Mother.

And yet, I have one quibble, which I may as well share now. As is the case with Ramona’s family (or was, until new baby Roberta came along in Ramona Forever), I am one of two sisters. But unlike Ramona, I’m the eldest, which makes me a Beezus. This is unfortunate, because Beezus is an absolute drip, hence, I assume, why she only got to be the lead in one Ramona book (Beezus and Ramona), before Cleary pivoted to Ramona full-time. Beezus is studious, boring, and unimaginative, and her greatest childhood joy was portraying the Virgin Mary in a nativity play. Her mother calls her “responsible” and “sensible.” This depiction is a smear against first-born children, and I will not stand for it.

Despite this lifelong outrage, Beverly Cleary owns. Happy birthday, my lady.

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