Last week, children’s publishing lost an amazing writer. Beverly Clearly has died. She was 104 years old and the author of over 40 children’s books.
It is ironic. She wrote for children because, when she was a child, she wanted to read stories about real kids like herself. Real kids facing real situations. When she was a librarian, one particular boy came to the desk and demanded to know where the section was with characters who were like regular kids. This is why she wrote about Henry Huggins. Then she wrote about Ramona Quimby.
What’s so ironic about this? My favorite Beverly Cleary book is The Mouse and the Motorcycle.
Other authors wrote books about regular kids. I wanted fun books, fantastical books, books that carried me to exciting new worlds. I read The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Stuart Little, The Borrowers, and The Littles. I also read every book I could find about horses – Black Beauty, The Black Stallion, everything by Marguerite Henry. When I was older, as much as I loved The Outsiders, I gravitated to Lloyd Alexander’s The Black Cauldron, and Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books.
My point? We need all kinds of books. There are kids who want to read realistic stories about realistic kids. There are other kids who have had it up to here and beyond with reality. They want to read fantastical stories about talking animals, aliens, or dragons. There are kids who love genre fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries.
No book is going to appeal to every single reader. I’ve always suspected that Cleary got that. Whether she was writing about a regular boy, a normal girl, or a mouse zipping about on a motorcycle, she knew who her reader was likely to be.
It’s a talent and I don’t think anyone would argue that she was a very talented writer.