According to her publisher, children’s author Beverly Cleary, born Beverly Atlee Bunn, passed away on Thursday at the age of 104 in Carmel, California. “We are saddened by the passing of Beverly Cleary, one of the most beloved children’s authors of all time,” president and publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books Suzanne Murphy said in a statement Friday. “Looking back, she’d often say, ‘I’ve had a lucky life,’ and generations of children count themselves lucky too — lucky to have the very real characters Beverly Cleary created, including Henry Huggins, Ramona and Beezus Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse, as true friends who helped shape their growing-up years.”
After attending Chaffey College and University of California at Berkeley, where she met her husband-to-be, Clarence Cleary, the author pursued a career as a children’s librarian, before publishing her first novel, Henry Huggins, in 1950. Over the next 49 years, Cleary wrote over 40 books, mostly children’s novels, becoming a staple for a half century of young readers, and beyond.
Inspired to write funny characters with whom her young readers could identify, after finding a dearth of relatable protagonists, Cleary is best known for her characters Henry Huggins and his dog Ribsy; the infamously unruly Ramona Quimby, the subject of eight books, along with her older sister Beezus Quimby; and Ralph S. Mouse, the star of The Mouse and Motorcycle trilogy.
“I think children want to read about normal, everyday kids. That’s what I wanted to read about when I was growing up,” Cleary told NPR’s Linda Wertheimer in a 1999 interview. “I wanted to read about the sort of boys and girls that I knew in my neighborhood and in my school. And in my childhood, many years ago, children’s books seemed to be about English children, or pioneer children. And that wasn’t what I wanted to read. And I think children like to find themselves in books.”
Among numerous other accolades awarded across her career, Cleary earned the National Book Award in 1981 for Ramona and Her Mother and 1984’s Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw, later receiving the National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment of the Arts and, in 2000, being named a Library of Congress Living Legend.
Cleary published her final book, Ramona’s World, in 1999 before retiring. Per the New York Times, more than 85 million copies of Cleary’s books have been sold. Her husband having passed away in 2004, Cleary is survived by her children, Malcolm and Marianne; three grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.