Tag Archives: Beverly Cleary

Socks, by Beverly Cleary, 1973, Book Review

Socks is written in true Beverly Cleary style. The cat for whom the book is named was the Bricker’s only pet, pampered, loved and a little spoiled. But his mistress’ comfortable lap began to shrink, and then one day Mr. and Mrs. Bricker brought home a new pet. One that wailed and smelled funny and stole all the attention that used to be lavished on Socks.

Written for ages six to nine (though probably independent only for the upper half), Socks will resonate with any child who’s owned a pet or been part of an expanding family, and it will lend the experiences to children who haven’t. It’s a light-hearted read, told from the perspective of a slightly selfish, slightly arrogant cat who gets into lots of mischief, from stealing wieners off the counter to destroying Nana’s wig while she sleeps. And can’t every kid identify with being just a little self-centered and naughty? Socks’ antics are sure to draw lots of smiles.

Cleary’s works always includes an overarching theme of family–of love, acceptance and togetherness–and this one’s no exception. The Bricker’s family simply includes a rambunctious but lovable, four-legged member named Socks.

Henry and the Clubhouse, by Beverly Cleary, 1962, Book Review

Henry and the Clubhouse is my favorite Henry Huggins book yet. Of course, Henry overlaps with the Ramona series. She’s his pesky little neighbor. And in this book, the two of them certainly clash!

Henry obtained a paper route in the last book. In this installment, his after-school job is funding his building project–a clubhouse that he and his two best friends are building in his backyard. Male friends, because of the “no girls allowed” rule. Yet, Henry feels badly for Beezus, who isn’t so bad as girls go, and whose feelings have been hurt. Enter Ramona who locks Henry in his own clubhouse and won’t let him out until he teaches her the secret boys-only password! And she causes no end of trouble on his paper route. Even Henry’s best ideas to get rid of her backfire. But if it weren’t for Ramona, Henry wouldn’t have gotten his name in the paper…

I love the innocence of Cleary’s books. They’re perfect read-alouds for six- to nine-year olds. The simple thrills of childhood, like building a clubhouse and sleeping in it in your very own sleeping bag, are just as fun for young kids now as they were in the last century. And the books are full of positive messages. Consider this clip from the final chapter:

“‘Henry, I’m proud of you!” said Mr. Huggins. “I don’t care how much snow there is. I’m going right out and buy half a dozen papers so we can send copies of this (article) to your relatives.’

‘Gee, thanks, Dad,” said Henry modestly. He had waited a long time to hear his father say he was proud of him.

‘I’ll admit that when you took on the route and then got mixed up in building a clubhouse, I didn’t think you could handle it, but you’ve done a good job,’ said Mr. Huggins.

Henry was pleased and at the same time a little embarrassed by this praise from his father.”

There you have it. Responsibility, pride in one’s work, friends, family and a kid-pleasing story. Is there any wonder why I love these books?

Henry and the Paper Route, by Beverly Cleary, 1957, Book Review

henry and the paper routeMy boys absolutely love Henry Huggins. These books may be over fifty years old, but the world of Klickitat Street still rings true. Families still have dogs. Little sisters are still pests. Neighbor kids still have squabbles. And boys still have dreams.

Henry and the Paper Route, ten-year-old Henry Huggins dreams of having a paper route of his very own. He fancies himself a true businessman, and he wouldn’t mind a little extra money to string up a telephone line between his room and that of his best friend, Robert. The trouble is, the newspaper only hires eleven-year-olds. When he does finally earn a route, four-year-old Ramona threatens to ruin everything.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a pretty big Beverly Cleary fan. There’s an innocence to her stories that I find refreshing. She does such a great job inventing characters that every kid can relate to, and their interaction is entertaining. Her stories always reminds me of my own childhood on Marcus Street. And my boys, who are roughly the same ages as the character and still living out their own squabbles with their own neighborhood kids, can’t wait to hear what happens next. No matter that the book was written during their grandfathers’ childhood, kids will be kids. And a writer with the ability to create a story with such long-lasting appeal is quite a writer indeed.

Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary, Book Review

dear mr. henshawDear Mr. Henshaw is Beverly Cleary’s highest award-winner, capturing the Newbery and Christopher Awards in the early 80’s, yet it is one of my least favorites. Written as a series of letters and journal entries, with absolutely no narration, Mrs. Cleary somehow, miraculously, weaves together a plot, a central-California setting and a well-rounded character. This accomplishment is a testament to her craft; the story is emotional and compelling. I simply don’t care for the style.

In a departure from her usual optimistic, fun-and-quirky subjects, Mrs. Cleary introduces us to Leigh Botts, a troubled boy who wants to become a writer. Through a series of letters sent to his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw, we catch insights into Leigh’s likes and dislikes, his hopes and insecurities, his absent, immature, truck-driver father, his wonderfully strong and supportive mother, and his loneliness. He quickly catches our hearts and our sympathies.

As Leigh’s first letters are rather insulting and demanding (humorous peeks into a child’s mind), Mr. Henshaw encourages him to keep a journal instead. We watch Leigh’s writing abilities grow stronger and stronger. Though Leigh’s never receives the happy turn of fortune he longs for, he learns, he grows, he meets with some success, and he grows stronger. For a child, this is a story of the triumph of the human spirit. For a parent, it is a wake-up call to consider exactly what adult selfishness and irresponsibility can do to the children who depend on us. One not to be taken lightly.

Though I much prefer traditional narration, the skill, the message, the powerful emotion of Dear Mr. Henshaw prompts me to recommend it.

Click here for a Kindle edition.  Read more of my Beverly Cleary reviews.

Ramona and her Father, by Beverly Cleary, 1977, Book Review

ramona and her fatherRamona and Her Father is another installment in the life of the Quimbys. Within, Mrs. Cleary maintains her characteristic anecdotal style, but she’s tied her chapters more fully together to give us a glimpse inside the mind of this precocious child. And to our surprise, we find a regular girl with logical reasons for her outlandish behavior. Ramona is scared of the changes taking place within her family. Her father has lost his job, her big sister has entered the moody junior high years, and her mother is so busy working she has little time or energy to spare.

Ramona daydreams about helping the family by being on a television commercial and earning a million dollars. Caught up in her playacting, she fashions a crown of burrs–that stick together “better than Tinker-toys”–and places it on her head like the girl on tv. That evening the burrs must be cut out of her hair. Another time she covers the house with signs to persuade her father to stop smoking so his lungs won’t turn black and so he won’t die, but they come back to haunt her. Yet in the end, the Quimby family remains intact, with plenty of love to go around no matter how ridiculous one of their members may behave.

“I love you, Daddy.”

“I know you do. That’s why you want me to stop smoking, and I love you too.”

“Even if I’m a brat sometimes?”

“Even if you’re a brat sometimes.”

Ramona thought awhile before she sat up and said, “Then why can’t we be a happy family?”

For some reason Mr. Quimby smiled. “I have news for you, Ramona,” he said. “We are a happy family.”

“We are?” Ramona was skeptical.

“Yes, we are.” Mr. Quimby was positive. “No family is perfect. Get that idea out of your head. And nobody is perfect either. All we can do is work at it. And we do.”

Beverly Cleary has delivered a sweet, funny and positive story in this Newbery Honor Book. I consider it one of her absolute best.

Read more of my Beverly Cleary reviews.

In Honor of Beverly Cleary

Today I’d like to pay tribute to one of the most accomplished, most celebrated, most beloved children’s authors in history.  Growing up, the name Beverly Cleary rolled off my tongue as easily as “Ronald Reagan” or “Michael Jackson”.  Everyone knew who she was.  And her characters – Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, Ribsy, Beezus and Ralph – sometimes I considered them better friends than my neighbors.

Born during the First World War, Mrs. Cleary has impacted children’s literature for decades.  Her rise to prominence began in the 1950’s; her last work was publish in 1999.  Currently, Mrs. Cleary is 95 years old and still writing.

What is it about her books that makes them as special today as they were half a century ago?  I’d answer, in part, that it’s her immaculate writing – smooth prose, a perfect sense of timing and vivid details that bring her stories to life.  Also, she writes about things important to kids: family, sibling rivalry, summer camp, school, dreams of growing up and neighborhood friends.  Timeless subjects that still speak to the heart of a child.  But it’s Mrs. Cleary’s cast of characters that make her work so unforgettable.  They’re real.  Flawed, impatient, scared, precocious.  We see ourselves in them.  We’re entertained by their outlandish actions.  The scene in the lunchroom where Ramona slams the raw egg against her forehead is still one of my favorites in all of literature.

Mrs. Cleary’s books deserve a place of prominence even after sixty years on the shelf.  And in my opinion, they’re badly needed.  Kids today seem to grow up way too fast.  They’re bombarded with wizards and vampires and horrible family situations.  A bit more time among the innocence and fun found in Beverly Cleary’s pages is just what the librarian ordered.

Beverly Cleary has written over forty books for children.  Click on the links to read my reviews:

Henry Huggins – (1950)
Ellen Tebbits – (1951)
Henry and Beezus – (1952)
Otis Spofford – (1953)
Henry and Ribsy – (1954)
Beezus and Ramona – (1955)
Fifteen – (1956)
Henry and the Paper Route – (1957)
The Luckiest Girl – (1958)
Jean and Johnny – (1959)
The Hullabaloo ABC – (1960)
The Real Hole – (1960)
Beaver and Wally – (1960)
Here’s Beaver! – (1961)
Two Dog Biscuits – (1961)
Emily’s Runaway Imagination – (1961)
Henry and the Clubhouse – (1962)
Sister of the Bride – (1963)
Ribsy – (1964)
The Mouse and the Motorcycle – (1965)
The Growing-Up Feet – (1967)
Mitch and Amy – (1967)
Ramona the Pest – (1968)
Runaway Ralph – (1970)
Socks – (1973)
Ramona the Brave – (1975)
Ramona and Her Father – (1977)
Ramona and Her Mother – (1979)
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 – (1981)
Ralph S. Mouse – (1982)
Dear Mr. Henshaw – (1983)
Ramona Forever – (1984)
The Ramona Quimby Diary – (1984)
Lucky Chuck – (1984)
Janet’s Thingamajigs – (1987)
A Girl from Yamhill – (1988)
Muggie Maggie – (1990)
Strider – (1991)
Petey’s Bedtime Story – (1993)
My Own Two Feet – (1995)
Ramona’s World – (1999)