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Beverly Cleary, author of the Ramona Quimby books, on turning 100: “I didn’t do it on purpose”

Beverly Cleary, 1971
Cleary in 1971.
State Library Photograph Collection, 1851-1990, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Beverly Cleary, author of the beloved Ramona Quimby books for children, is about to turn 100! And in true Cleary fashion, she is being charmingly prickly about it. "I didn’t do it on purpose," she told the Today show.

Cleary has written more than 40 books, but she didn’t learn to read until the second grade — and once she started, she didn’t like her options. "So many books in those days, back in the 1920s, had been published in England," she says, "and the children had nannies and pony carts. They seemed like a bunch of sissies to me."

Cleary became a school librarian when she grew up, but remained unimpressed with the titles available for children; she was in full agreement with a little boy who demanded of her, "Where are the books about kids like us?" (In the video, amazingly, Cleary corrects Jenna Bush Hager’s line delivery: "He didn’t say it so nicely." Beverly Cleary, acting coach.) To fill the gap, in 1950 Cleary published her first book, Henry Huggins, about the adventures of an ordinary boy and his dog.

But she is most celebrated for her Ramona Quimby books. Rambunctious, unruly Ramona first burst onto the scene as a supporting player in a story about her older sister, Beezus and Ramona, in 1955. She refused to remain on the sidelines and quickly took over as a main character, and her reign wouldn’t end until the publication of Ramona’s World in 1999.

It’s the Ramona books that the kids Today interviews are cradling in their arms. "I would say thank you," one girl says, when asked what she’d like to say to Cleary about her work. "They kind of inspired me to go out and read more, and I thank her so much for that."

We’re not crying, you’re crying.