Beverly Cleary Turns 100: 8 Fun and Offbeat Things About the Children's Writer and Her Books

The 'Ramona Quimby' author once wrote 'Leave It to Beaver' tie-in novels, eloped because her parents didn't like her fiance and counts Amy Poehler as a fan.
Courtesy of Harper Collins Publishers

Beverly Cleary, the acclaimed children's author of the Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins series, turns 100 on April 12. The Oregon native and longtime Carmel, Calif., resident has written 44 books — starting with with Henry Huggins in 1950 and ending with Ramona's World in 1999. In total she's sold more than 90 million books over the course of her life.

In honor of her centennial, here are eight fun facts about the author and her books:

1. Ramona is her favorite character, but her popularity was an accident.

Cleary added Ramona as a younger sister of Beatrice Quimby because she thought too many of her characters were only children, never expecting she'd become a star in her own right. She ascribes Ramona's popularity to the fact that she "does not learn to be a better girl. I was so annoyed with the books in my childhood because children always learned to be 'better' children and, in my experience, they didn't," she said in an interview with Reading Rockets. "They just grew. And so I started Ramona … and she has never reformed." But Cleary has also said she wasn't like Ramona in real life. "I was a well-behaved girl, but I often thought like Ramona," she told New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof.

2. She wanted to drop out of school in first grade because she was slow reader, but ended up as a librarian.

In first grade, Cleary was assigned to the lowest-performing reading group. When her teacher caught her daydreaming, she beat her on the palms of her hands. Cleary wanted to quit school but her parents wouldn't let her. Ironically, her first job out of college was as a children's librarian in Yakima, Wash.

3. Her parents disapproved of her fiance, so they eloped.

Cleary (nee Bunn) entered the University of California at Berkeley in 1936, after two years at junior college. She steered clear of the frat parties but liked to attend school dances. While in college, she met Clarence Cleary, another student. After graduation they announced their intention to marry, but her parents disapproved because he was Catholic. So they eloped in 1940. They were married for 64 years, until Clarence's death in 2004.

4. Sarah Polley played Ramona on Canadian TV.

Ramona first made it onto the air for a short-lived (10 episode) Canadian TV series that starred Polley as the title character and ran in 1988-89. A 2010 movie adaptation starred Joey King as Ramona and Selena Gomez as her older sister Beezus.

5. She wrote three Leave It to Beaver tie-in novels in the early 1960s.

She told the Los Angeles Times in 2011, "I wrote the Beaver books — it was boring work. They wanted a certain number of words, and I'm not used to writing prose by the yard. And I received several letters saying the books were better than the movie. I cut out dear old Dad's philosophizing …"

6. The books often draw from her own life.

Her own children, twins Marianne and Malcolm, inspired the book Mitch and Amy. And she once saw her cousin catch a live salmon with his bare hands, which became the basis for a Henry Huggins story.

7. There's statues to Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins and his dog Ribsy, and an elementary school named for her in Portland, Oregon.

The statues are in Grant Park, where many of the stories are set, and were unveiled in 1995. The school is on the other side of the park, a five-minute walk from the statues.

8. Amy Poehler and Judy Blume are fans.

The comedian and the children's author both wrote introductions to new editions of Cleary's books that came out earlier this year. Poehler wrote that the thing she liked about Ramona was she "was a pest! She was irascible and uncompromising! She was allowed to be angry and was not afraid to stand up to boys!" Blume wrote her "big mistake" was thinking she was too old at 12 for Henry Huggins.  I'm just glad I got to read them when I was starting out as a writer. I'm not sure there would be a Peter and Fudge if I hadn't."