Dear Beverly Cleary,
Happy 100th birthday! If anyone has deserved such a long and wonderful life, it is you. I wish I could visit you today with a beautiful chocolate cake that was big enough to hold a hundred candles. I would give you the world’s biggest hug, because I do not think I would be the person I am today if it weren’t for you and your gorgeous books.
I first found you through the lovely stories of Ramona Quimby. I loved reading about a spunky girl who was not punished, but celebrated. I especially related to her story about a girl ripping off her owl design. There was a girl in my class who was copying my work, and it was the first time a book really resonated and made me feel less alone. I think it planted the first seeds of empathy in me.
Otis Spofford was yet another childhood companion of mine. My teacher read it to my fifth grade class, much to our giggles and delight. I, however, could not wait to find out what happened next, so I ran to the library and checked it out so I could finish it faster. You will be pleased to know that I did not spoil it for the rest of the class.
You even carried me through adolescence. I was the geeky girl with the frizzy hair that no boy looked twice at, except to make fun of her. When I read your teen novels, like Fifteen and The Luckiest Girl, it was catnip for my teenage soul. I devoured the books, dreaming of a world of jukeboxes and boys that just wanted to give you a kiss at the dance. I gave the books to other lonely hearts, and, for a brief time, we daydreamed about the books at lunch together.
Your books are still with me today. When I visited San Francisco, I insisted on looking for a back scratcher in Chinatown (like in the book Fifteen). I immediately thought of your teen heroines when I saw a soda bar at a pharmacy in Charlottesville. I always order an egg cream because you made it sound so decadent and exotic. But most of all, I want to be a writer just like you. I want to stay with people the way you have with me.
Happy birthday, Beverly Cleary. You will be with me always.
P.S. Want to read about Ramona as an adult? Check out my article for Quirk Books here.