Interviews with Beverly

L.A. Times book critic David L. Ulin

Jacket Copy: What were some of the early books that inspired you?

Beverly Cleary: I had a bad time in school in the first grade. Because I had been a rather lonely child on a farm, but I was free and wild and to be shut up in a classroom -- there were 40 children on those days in the classroom, and it was quite a shock. The reader was incredibly stupid -- about Ruth and John and Rover. But my mother always kept library books in the house, and one rainy Sunday afternoon -- this was before television, and we didn’t even have a radio -- I picked up a book to look at the pictures and discovered I was reading and enjoying what I read. It was "The Dutch Twins" by Lucy Fitch Perkins, who did a series of books about twins in different countries. Maybe that’s why I had twins. (laughs) Something happened in "The Dutch Twins." They fell into the Zuider Zee. They were lively stories, with a simple vocabulary, so then I took off with this and I’ve been a reader ever since.

JC: Henry Huggins was a real departure as a character. He was a boy like I knew boys.

BC: Yes. And I’ve had some very moving letters from young men in the last year or so saying that Henry Huggins gave them hope, that there were better neighborhoods to live in than wherever they lived. I didn’t start out writing to give children hope, but I’m glad some of them found it.

JC: You seem fiercely independent as a writer, so the idea of writing words by the yard must have been difficult.

BC: Well, my mornings were very interrupted. I had to drive the children down the hill to the university nursery school and they weren’t there long enough for me to go back up the hill and then come down again so I needed something to do in the car and that’s how I occupied myself.

JC: You went to junior college in Los Angeles. What was the city like then?

BC: I have lovely memories of Los Angeles in the 1930s. I came down to live with my mother’s cousin and they invited me to come and go to junior college for a year. And my parents -- it was the darkest days of the Depression, and they were worrying about, "What are we going to do with Beverly now that she’s finishing high school?" and so they allowed me to go. It was quite a journey. Greyhound bus from Portland to Southern California and my mother’s cousin went into Los Angeles once a month to something called the Book Breakfast. And so I went along, and I was free to roam for a couple of hours. The sky was so blue, and it seems to me that the library had been damaged by the Long Beach earthquake, and so I couldn’t go there. But I wandered around the department stores, and everything seemed so clean and sunshiney. I loved those trips. Of course, we drove through orange groves to get there.

Video Interview with Beverly Cleary from Reading Rockets

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