Interview with author Beverly Cleary
When Julie Christopher from HarperCollins Children's Books contacted me to videotape an interview with Beverly Cleary I was thrilled. After all, she was my favorite author as a child. Now 35 years later her work is on the NEA's Top 100 favorite Children's Books for Teachers and Children.
Her editor Barbara Lalicki conducted the interview in Ms. Cleary's Carmel home. April 12, 2006 her 90th birthday is Drop Everything and Read Day or DEAR. We hope everyone does just that!
This interview was recorded and produced by BigTime Video Services for HarperCollins Children's Books (c) 2006. All rights reserved.
BigTime Video Services
Director of Photography, Editor: Phillip Powell
Producer & Makeup: Peri Basseri
2nd Camera and sound: Jayna Kersh
Interviewer: Barbara Lalicki
Executive Producer: Julie Christopher
Added: 1 year ago
Celebrate Reading with Beverly Cleary
An Interview with the Beloved Children's Book Author
[scene opens with a still image of Beverly Cleary]
BARBARA: [in voice over] Today, we're gonna visit Beverly Cleary, one of the world's most beloved and most distinguished writers of books for children.
[cut to a still image of a young Beverly ("UC Berkeley yearbook picture, class of '38"), along with another image of her with a group of young children ("Beverly Cleary leads story hour in the park")]
BARBARA: [in voice over] More than fifty years ago, Beverly Cleary was a childrens' librarian in Yakima, Washington.
[cut to various illustrations from Beverly's books]
BARBARA: [in voice over] Young readers, and especially boys, were bored by the kind of books that were available. They kept asking Misses Cleary for books about children "just like us." Several years later, when Beverly Cleary started to write her first novel, she had those children in mind.
[cut to the cover of the 50th anniversary edition of "Henry Huggins"]
BARBARA: [in voice over] The book she wrote was "Henry Huggins." It was an immediate hit, and established her remarkable career.
[cut to the cover of "Henry and Beezus"]
BARBARA: [in voice over] More than three generations of readers have loved the characters Beverly Cleary has created, including Henry, Otis Spofford, Ellen Tebbits, Ribsy, Ralph S. Mouse, Beezus and her ever-popular sister Ramona.
[cut to a still image of Beverly ("The World of Beverly Cleary"), then to Barbara Lalicki interviewing her]
BARBARA: What's the greatest joy you've received from writing books?
BEVERLY: I think the many letters I have received from children, or from their parents or their teachers, telling me of a child who never liked to read until he discovered my books.
BARBARA: Of all the characters you've created, who would you most like to have dinner with?
BEVERLY: Well, I'd really like to have dinner with all of them, if they ... uh, chewed with their mouths shut and sat up straight and minded their manners.
BARBARA: Which one would be best at that, do you think?
BEVERLY: Ellen Tebbits.
BARBARA: Ah, and the worst behaved?
BEVERLY: Probably Otis Spofford.
BARBARA: He was kind of a roguish boy.
BEVERLY: Yes, and at the time I wrote about Otis ... he was a child of divorce, and that was unusual.
BARBARA: Do you think they'd get along with each other?
BEVERLY: I think basically they would. They might squabble a bit, but don't all children?
BARBARA: What prompted you to write the character of Ramona Quimby?
BEVERLY: Well, she's really an accidental character. When I was writing the Henry books, it occurred to me that all the children appeared to be only children, so I tossed in a little sister. And at the moment I needed a name, a neighbor called out "Ramona!" to another neighbor, and so I just named her Ramona!
[they both laugh]
BEVERLY: The actual Ramona that I think might've inspired me was a little girl who lived near us, who was ... She was considered rather impossible, and I have a vivid memory of her coming home from the grocery store. In those days, children could be sent to the store, and she had a pound of butter, which she had opened, and she was just eating the pound of butter!
BEVERLY: And somehow, that little girl became Ramona, although Ramona never ate a pound of butter!
BARBARA: Why do you think that children like Ramona so much?
BEVERLY: Because she does not learn to be a better girl! I was so annoyed with the books in my childhood, because children always learned to be better children, and ... in my experience, they didn't! They just grew!
BEVERLY: And so, I started Ramona, and ... and she has never reformed!
BEVERLY: And she's really not a naughty child, in spite of the title of "Ramona the Pest." Her intentions are good, but she has a lot of imagination, and things sometimes don't turn out the way she had expected.
BARBARA: Do you remember, like, waiting ... when you first started writing, waiting to hear from people you'd submitted your manuscripts to? Or, remember those days before you were published?
BEVERLY: Well, I had worked in a bookstore, and I knew of the Morrow editor and her fine reputation. I sent it off, and I had learned from the book business that you should be able to hear within six weeks, and so the days went by, and I watched for the mailman, who finally said, "What are you watching for?"
BEVERLY: And I told him, and he began to watch for the ...
BEVERLY: I said, "Either a letter or a big, brown envelope." And he finally came running down some brick steps to our front door, waving the envelope and said, "Here it is!"
[they both laugh]
BEVERLY: And he stood there while I opened it.
BARBARA: Oh! And it was from Elizabeth Hamilton?
BEVERLY: Yes. Yes, mm-hmm. Saying nice things about the book and ... and I haven't had any rejections.
BARBARA: Well, I'm sure everyone asks you, and everyone wants to know ... Where do you get your ideas?
BEVERLY: From all sorts of places. From my own childhood, from the childhood of others that I hear about. Um, sometimes from newspapers. The story of "Henry Huggins and the Bubble Gum" came from a newspaper clipping. Uh, sometimes they just seem to come out of thin air, and sometimes ... Well, with "Dear Mister Henshaw," two little boys who didn't know one another asked me to write about a boy whose parents were divorced.
BARBARA: Mm hmm.
BEVERLY: And I had never thought about it, but I said I'd give it a try.
BARBARA: And that's the Newbery Medal winner!
BEVERLY: Yes, it was! Mm hmm.
BARBARA: You get thousands of letters every year from your fans. What have you noticed about them over the years?
BEVERLY: Well, I think the emotions of children don't change. Their life situations change, but inside they're just like they always were. They want a home, they want parents that love them, they want friends. They like teachers that they like.
BEVERLY: And I think that's rather universal.
BARBARA: Are there any particular characters that they write about more than others?
BEVERLY: Well, they write mostly about Ramona and Dear Mister Henshaw.
BARBARA: Are any of your characters modeled after your own children?
BEVERLY: "Mitch and Amy" is modeled after my own children, but I found it difficult to write when the characters were running around the house.
BEVERLY: And so I didn't write anymore about them.
BARBARA: Did you start to set aside a certain time every day to write?
BEVERLY: Yes, I did. When I first started writing, I would start after breakfast. In those days, I baked bread, and quite often would start bread and sit down and write. And by the time I needed to stretch my legs, it was time to punch the dough down, and so I'd take a break and then go back to writing and write 'til lunchtime, or until I was tired.
BARBARA: You know there's gonna be a "National Drop Everything and Read Day" on your birthday, April 12th of this year. Uh, waddaya hope will happen on that day?
BEVERLY: Well, I was very honored to learn about it, and I've always thought that "Drop Everything and Read" was a great idea. When I was in grammar school, I sometimes felt that the school didn't want us to read, because there were long questions after everything we read and ... Oh, we had to write book reviews and give the theme of a book.
[she shakes her head]
BEVERLY: Oh, I hated ... That was a question I hated the most, "What is the theme of this book?" I just wanted to read a book and enjoy it! And I think that's what children should do.
[cut to another shot of Beverly]
BEVERLY: I think I was fortunate in growing up before television, and before many people even had radios, because my mother read aloud every evening to my father and me. And I don't know what I would've done in the evening if she hadn't, and she read many books. She read myths and fairy tales, for my benefit, and she read travel books because that's what my father enjoyed. She really read quite a variety of things, and I loved those evenings. I wish more people read aloud.
BARBARA: What do you hope that people will get out of "National Drop Everything and Read Day"?
BEVERLY: That they enjoyed it so much that it will be more than just a day!
[she laughs, then cut to Beverly reading an excerpt from her book "Ramona Quimby, Age 8"]
BEVERLY: "There were good parts of third grade, Ramona decided. She enjoyed riding the bus to school, and she enjoyed keeping Yard Ape from getting the best of her. Then another good part of the third grade began the second week of school."
[she turns the page]
BEVERLY: "Just before her class was to make its weekly visit to the school library, Misses Whaley announced, 'Today and from now on, we're going to have a Sustained Silent Reading every day.' Ramona liked the sound of Sustained Silent Reading, even though she was not sure what it meant, because it sounded important."
[she clears her throat]
BEVERLY: "Misses Whaley continued. 'This means that every day after lunch, we're going to sit at our desks and read silently to ourselves any book we choose from the library.' 'Even mysteries?' someone asked. 'Even mysteries,' said Misses Whaley."
[cut to a shot of the book while Beverly is reading]
BEVERLY: "'Do we have to give book reports on what we read?' asked one suspicious member of the class. 'No book reports on your Sustained Silent Reading books,' Misses Whaley promised.
[cut back to a shot of Beverly reading]
BEVERLY: "Then she went on, 'I don't think Sustained Silent Reading sounds very interesting, so I think we will call it something else.' Here she printed four letters on the blackboard, and as she pointed out, she read, 'D-E-A-R.'"
[the "Drop Everything and Read" logo appears on screen]
BEVERLY: "'Can anyone guess what these letters stand for?' The class thought and thought. 'Do Everything All Right,' suggested someone. A good thought, but not the right answer. 'Don't Eat a Reader,' suggested Yard Ape. Misses Whaley laughed and told him to try again."
[she clears her throat]
BEVERLY: "As Ramona thought, she stared out the window at the blue sky, the treetops and, in the distance, the snow-capped peak of Mount Hood looking like a giant, licked ice cream cone. 'R' could stand for 'run' and 'A' for 'and' ... "
[she clears her throat]
BEVERLY: "'Drop Everything and Run!' Ramona burst out. Misses Whaley, who was not the sort of teacher who expected everyone to raise a hand before speaking, laughed and said, 'Alright, Ramona. Have you forgotten we are talking about reading?' 'Drop Everything and Read!' chorused the rest of the class. Ramona felt silly. She should have thought of that herself."
[cut to another shot of Beverly]
BEVERLY: I developed my love of reading because my mother always saw to it that I had books, and she read a lot. And then when I went to school, I disliked reading, and it wasn't until the third grade that I picked up a copy of "The Dutch Twins" by Lucy Fitch Perkins, planning to look at the pictures. And I discovered that I was reading, and enjoying what I read, and I kept on reading. It was a dull, rainy day, and it really was wonderful. It was a turning point in my life.
Many thanks to Beverly Cleary
Interviewer: Barbara Lalicki
This video was recorded and produced by Big Time Video Services for Harper Collins Children's Books.
(c) 2006. All rights reserved.
Beverly Cleary (born Beverly Atlee Bunn; April 12, 1916) is an award-winning American writer of more than 30 books for young adults and children. As one of America's most successful living authors, she's sold 91 million copies of her books worldwide. Some of her best-known characters are Henry Huggins, Ribsy, Beatrice ("Beezus") Quimby, her sister Ramona, and Ralph S. Mouse. She has won many literary awards, including the 1984 Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw and the 1981 National Book Award for Ramona and Her Mother. Educated at colleges in California and Washington, she worked as a librarian before writing children's books.
Cleary was born in McMinnville, Oregon. Until she was old enough to attend school, Cleary lived on a farm in Yamhill, a town so small it had no library. Still, Beverly learned to love books, due largely to her mother's arrangement with the Oregon State Library to have books sent to Yamhill.
When Cleary was six years old, her family left the farm and moved to Portland, Oregon, where she attended elementary and high school. She blamed her struggle with reading in this new school setting partly on her dissatisfaction with the books she was required to read and partly on an unpleasant first-grade teacher. Also, after six years of living in the country, on a farm, the city life in Portland took a toll on her health, and she was frequently ill, which set back her schoolwork and reading skills further.
In the second grade, Cleary studied under her favorite teacher, and by the third grade, she had greatly improved her reading ability and found new joy in books. She read The Dutch Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins, and became a frequent visitor to the library. As a young girl her favorite book was Dandelion Cottage by Caroll Watson Rankin.
The grammar school librarian was largely responsible for developing her love of reading. She encouraged Cleary to check out books about subjects to which she could relate. The librarian not only encouraged her to read but also to write her own books, and instilled in her the belief that she, too, could write for children some day.
In 1934, age 18, Cleary moved to Ontario, California, to attend Chaffey College, from which she earned an Associate of Arts degree. She worked as a substitute librarian at the Ontario City Library. After graduating with a BA in English in 1938 from the University of California at Berkeley, she studied at the School of Librarianship at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she earned a degree in library science in 1939.
Because attending college during the Great Depression was expensive, Cleary worked through the university's cooperative education program to earn money. One afternoon, during a break from her chores at work, she found herself having a sandwich with a young gentleman named Clarence Cleary, her future husband.
In 1940 she married Clarence, and they moved to Oakland, California. They eloped because her parents, who were Presbyterians, did not approve of the union with the Roman Catholic Cleary, even after it occurred. The Clearys had two children, Marrienne Elizabeth and Malcolm James, twins, born in 1955. Clarence Cleary died in 2004. Beverly Cleary now lives in Carmel, California.