Dear Mrs. Cleary,
Happy Birthday! You are 100 years old today. I’ve read your recent interviews, and know you are amazed that you have reached this milestone. Some may attribute your longevity to good genes, but I think there is a great chance that your inner child keeps you young.
I am writing to you, as Leah Botts wrote to his favorite author, to let you know how your books entertained and sustained me through my childhood and teen years. I discovered you by chance in my fourth grade reader. Henry and Ribs was one of our reading selections. Being more Beezus than Ramona, I didn’t read ahead, but the story of Henry and his struggle to get the stray dog Ribsy home on the bus struck a chord in me. I carefully wrote your name on a sheet of wide ruled notebook paper in my shaky cursive, smearing the blue ink as my left hand moved across the page.
Next library day, I was tingling all over as I found a whole shelf of your books in the children’s section. Each week I looked forward to reading about the kids on Klickitat Street. I understood Henry’s big ideas that somehow didn’t turn out so well. I had those moments, too. I identified with Beezus, the girl who was responsible and motherly towards her exasperating little sister, Ramona. Later, I read another story about Ellen Tebbits and her best friend, Austine Allen horseback riding. I found that book on the next shelf and nodding in recognition of how two friends can be torn apart by misunderstandings.
When I entered junior high, you were ready for my next stage of life. Jean and Johnny helped me make sense of the boys who acted interested, but who were just killing time until they found someone else. Fifteen gave me the confidence to be plain old me- like Jane Purdy discovered after comparing herself to the “sweater girls.” And the Luckiest Girl of all, Shelley gets to leave her boring life in Oregon and move in with a friend’s family for her junior year of high school. Her feelings about her family, and her struggles to discover who she was, away from her somewhat overbearing mother were my struggles. Shelley taught me that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side after all.
I often re-read these stories. As a teacher my favorite read aloud books were Beezus and Ramona, and Otis Spofford. Every child could relate to kids who were just like them. One of my greatest joys was introducing my own three children to the world of Henry Huggins and his friends. I have given countless copies of your books as prizes, and gifts over the years. I never get tired of looking through Louis Darling’s wonderfully realistic illustrations of Ramona, Ribsy, Otis and Ellen, Henry and Beezus.
Thank you Mrs. Cleary, for sharing your stories with us.