Vera Cleaver

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 486

Bill and Vera Cleaver, married in 1945, wrote seventeen books together. Although they won few awards, their books have consistently received high critical acclaim.

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Vera Fern Allen Cleaver was born on January 6, 1919, in Virgil, South Dakota, and grew up in Florida during the Great Depression. William Joseph Cleaver was born on March 24, 1920, in Hugo, Oklahoma, and grew up in Seattle, Washington. Although neither finished college, they both put a great emphasis on self-directed learning, claiming to be "graduates of the public libraries of America." Bill Cleaver served as a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force for many years, and Vera Cleaver was a U.S. Air Force accountant in Japan and France. During the early years of their marriage, the Cleavers wrote stories for pulp and family magazines. It was not until 1967 that their first young adult novel, Ellen Grae, was published.

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The Cleavers derived many of the themes of their novels from their childhood experiences and observations, and in many cases they were the first writers to deal with these subjects in books for young adult readers. Both authors moved frequently as children and were exposed to poverty, illness, and family problems. Vera was the fifth of nine children, one of whom was mentally retarded. Bill's parents divorced when he was five, and he was sent to a private school in British Columbia, Canada. Mental retardation and divorce or parental abandonment are discussed in several of the Cleavers' novels. Their novels also reflect the value that both authors, from childhood on, placed on education and literacy.

Nearly all of the Cleavers' books have appeared on "best book" lists of publications such as the New York Times Book Review, School Library Journal, Horn Book, and Publishers Weekly. Their books Grover and The Whys and Wherefores of Littabelle Lee were National Book Award nominees in 1971 and 1974. Ellen Grae and Where the Lilies Bloom appeared on the Horn Book Honor List and Me Too was named an American Library Association Notable Book. Dust of the Earth won the 1975 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award and the 1975 Golden Spur award. Queen of Hearts was a 1979 finalist for the National Book Award. It has been suggested that one reason the Cleavers have won no major literary award is that no one of their books can be chosen as exceptional; rather, nearly all are consistently excellent.

Before Bill's death, the Cleavers worked together as a team on each book they produced. Bill usually came up with the basic plot and story line. Vera then did the actual writing, filling in details, dialogue, and action, while Bill researched the subjects and people they were writing about. After her husband's death on August 20, 1981, in Winter Haven, Florida, Vera completed their last joint novel, Hazel Rye, and she has since written two novels on her own, Sugar Blue and Sweetly Sings the Donkey. These, too, carry on the Cleavers' tradition of serious literature for young adults.

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