Beverly Cleary has meant the world to my children and I during the coronavirus pandemic. My own mother, who lives far from my family, began mailing Cleary’s books to my kids back at the beginning of this distance learning year.
Every afternoon following school, my kids and I would sit in our living room and pour over the Ramona series together. We especially loved “Ramona the Pest,” as it allowed my daughter, a kindergartener not in the classroom, to get a glimpse of school life from a five-year-old’s point of view. I cried at the end of some chapters, grateful that my own five-year-old could enter into that world yet sad that she wasn’t having those Ramona-esque experiences.
I am grateful for those laughs during those hard days — when Ramona worked herself into a frenzy thinking PTA was code for potato chips she wasn’t allowed to have, and when she relentlessly pestered Beezus into reading her favorite book. My kids especially burst into hysterics when they learned that when Beezus was young, she thought the three wise men had brought Jesus myrrh for his diaper rash. They made the joke several times during the holidays, erupting into fits of laughter all over again.
On one particularly dreary day, the kids and I even made Ramona and Beezus’ home cooked meal of chicken thighs and cornbread.
After the Ramona books came the Henry Huggins series. My seven-year-old son was captivated and inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic of Henry. I was challenged in my own parenting by the expectations Mr. and Mrs. Huggins placed upon their son. My curious middle child speculated about the nature of the relationship between Henry and Beezus, while my youngest related deeply to the ever entertaining Ramona. We all loved good ol’ Ribsy and wondered why Scooter McCarthy had to be such a bully. After we read “Henry and the Clubhouse” together, my son’s Christmas wish list contained only nails and wood…until we reminded him that we couldn’t build a real clubhouse because we don’t have a yard. He and his sisters spent hours dreaming up what their own secret space would be like. There was, indeed, something for all of us to enjoy.
I felt a little heartsick when we finished reading all of the books a couple of months ago. Reading Beverly Cleary’s brilliant children’s books not only brought back beautiful childhood memories, but created more warm, special times between me and my own children. During a difficult year, she brought us into a world of fun and excitement.
A couple of months back, my children and I even talked about writing a letter to her to thank her for the fun, but we never got around to doing it.
Then Beverly Cleary passed away on March 25, 2021, in Carmel, California.
She was a gift to generations of children, and her legacy will live on through her storytelling. We may not be able to thank her in this life, but someday, when we have a yard, my son will most certainly build a clubhouse…just like Henry Huggins.