Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 594
Beverly Atlee Bunn Cleary was born on April 12, 1916, in McMinnville, Oregon. She lived on a farm in the Willamette Valley in Oregon until she was six. Her love affair with children's books began when her mother had books sent from the state library each week and acted as librarian for Yamhill, a town too small to have its own library.
At the age of six, Beverly moved with her family to Portland, Oregon, where she attended elementary and high school. Despite her initial frustration in learning to read and the "disgrace" of being placed in the "lowest" reading group, by grade three she had mastered reading. She proceeded to read nearly every children's title in the public library, but she found few examples of the type of book she wanted to read most: funny stories about ordinary boys and girls. As a result of a sixth grade writing assignment and the encouragement of the school librarian, she decided that when she grew up she would write stories of this kind.
After graduating from junior college in Ontario, California, she earned a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1938 and a degree in librarianship from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1939. She was a children's librarian in Yakima, Washington, during the years 1939 and 1940. After marrying Clarence T. Cleary in 1940, she served as post librarian for the U.S. Army hospital in Oakland, California, from 1943 through 1945. She is the mother of twins, a son and a daughter, now grown.
Since her first book, Henry Huggins, was published in 1950, Cleary has produced nearly a book every year. She has enjoyed a long relationship with William Morrow and Company, the publisher of all her books. Her ever-popular characters, Henry, Beezus, and Ramona, have become favorites with elementary and middle school students.
Sensitive to her readers, Cleary wrote Fifteen, a book dealing with the emotions of first love, when junior high school girls asked her to write about children their age. Similarly, Dear Mr. Henshaw resulted when several boys requested that she write a book about a boy whose parents are divorced. Recently, Cleary has written short stories for adults, one of which, "Josie Lays Her Down to Sleep," appeared in the February 1985 issue of Woman's Day.
Cleary has accumulated a staggering list of awards and honors. These include the Distinguished Alumna Award from the University of Washington in 1975; the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the American Library Association in 1975 for substantial and lasting contributions to children's literature; the Children's Choice Election Award, second place, in 1978; the Regina Medal from the Catholic Library Association in 1980 for "continued distinguished contributions to children's literature"; the de Grummond Award from the University of Mississippi and a Silver Medallion from the University of Southern Mississippi, both in 1982, recognizing her lasting contributions to children's literature; the United States nomination for the prestigious international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1984; the Everychild citation for children's books in 1985.
In addition, Dear Mr. Henshaw has received many awards: inclusion on School Library Journal's "Best Books of 1983" list; New York Times Notable Book of 1983; Horn Book's honor list in 1984; the Christopher Award in 1983; Notable Book citation from the American Library Association in 1984; the John Newbery Medal from the American Library Association in 1984; the Commonwealth Silver Medal from the Commonwealth Club of California in 1984; and the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Memorial Children's Book Award in 1985. deary's long list of awards comes as no surprise to the many readers who have clamored for her stories for over three decades and look forward to more in years to come.