Beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary dead at 104

Beverly Cleary, the beloved author whose characters Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby delighted generations of children, died Thursday, her publisher announced. She was 104.

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In a statement, HarperCollins, Cleary’s publisher, said the author died in Carmel, California, where she has lived for more than a half-century.

No cause of death was given, The Washington Post reported.

Trained as a librarian, Cleary was working in Yakima, Washington, when she was confronted by a child, the newspaper reported.

“A little boy faced me rather ferociously across the circulation desk and said, ‘Where are the books about kids like us?’” Cleary recalled.

Cleary admitted she was at a loss. While there were many children’s books, none of them appealed to “grubby neighborhood kids” like the boy who stood in front of he -- or to adventure-seeking girls like she had been, the Post reported.

That led Cleary to write her first novel, “Henry Huggins,” in 1950. The book was based on the children she grew up with in Portland, Oregon, The Associated Press reported.

Huggins, his dog, Ribsy, and his friends on Klickitat Street, including Beezus and her younger sister, Ramona, resonated with young readers.

“Cleary is funny in a very sophisticated way,” Roger Sutton, editor of The Horn Book, told The New York Times in April 2011. “She gets very close to satire, which I think is why adults like her, but she’s still deeply respectful of her characters -- nobody gets a laugh at the expense of another. I think kids appreciate that they’re on a level playing field with adults.”

Cleary wrote more than 30 books, which sold more than 85 million copies and have been translated into 29 different languages, HarperCollins said in its statement. She won a Newbery Honor in 1978 for “Ramona and Her Father” and one in 1982 for “Ramona Quimby, Age 8.” She received the 1984 John Newbery Medal for “Dear Mr. Henshaw,” which was inspired by letters she had received from children.

“We are saddened by the passing of Beverly Cleary, one of the most beloved children’s authors of all time,” Suzanne Murphy, president and publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books, said in a statement. “Looking back, she’d often say, ‘I’ve had a lucky life,’ and generations of children count themselves lucky too -- lucky to have the very real characters Beverly Cleary created, including Henry Huggins, Ramona and Beezus Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse, as true friends who helped shape their growing-up years.

“We at HarperCollins also feel extremely lucky to have worked with Beverly Cleary and to have enjoyed her sparkling wit. Her timeless books are an affirmation of her everlasting connection to the pleasures, challenges, and triumphs that are part of every childhood.”

Cleary received the American Library Association’s 1975 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, the Catholic Library Association’s 1980 Regina Medal, and the University of Southern Mississippi’s 1982 Silver Medallion, HarperCollins said in its release.

Cleary also was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President George W. Bush in 2003, the Post reported.

Beverly Atlee Bunn was born April 12, 1916, in McMinnville, Oregon, the Post reported. Her father was the son of a farmer whose ancestors traveled west to Oregon in a covered wagon during the mid-1800s, according to the newspaper.

She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1938 from the University of California at Berkeley. After receiving a second bachelor’s degree, in library science, from the University of Washington in 1939, she began working as a children’s librarian in Yakima.

When children asked Cleary where she got her ideas, she would say, “From my own experience and from the world around me,” HarperCollins wrote in its release.

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