April 12 marks iconic American children’s author Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday. It’s been nearly 70 years since her writing career began, and her books, made instantly popular for the very ordinariness of her fictional people, have become touchstones for readers and writers interested in the compelling nature of ordinary concerns of many children.
Mrs. Cleary’s storytelling found a voice precisely because she saw a disconnection between the kids who were coming to her library and the then-stocked books available to them. Her dedication to connecting the dots between potential reader and stories in which familiar childhood experiences and feelings evoke a sense of identification and comfort. This approach delighted young readers for a few generations and continues to serve as instructive to more contemporary authors who write today. This sense of making satisfaction discoverable through story in a book also has inspired a birthday celebration of decades’ standing in Mrs. Cleary’s honor. Drop Everything And Read—or DEAR Day—becomes an occasion for community members to visit school classes simply to read aloud to students for 20 minutes or so, with no pressure beyond listening to a good book.
Mrs. Cleary’s books seem to have arrived primed for listening enjoyment. Even when read with the eyes, cadences and character tones are clear. A variety of excellent narrators have performed many of them. In particular, B.D. Wong’s aural celebration of Ralph S. Mouse, who appears in THE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE, as well as a couple of sequels, and Stockard Channing’s Ramona performances, including her Earphones Award-winning RAMONA FOREVER, can leave listeners peering into their audiobook players to see how Mrs. Cleary’s characters could have set up housekeeping there.
Mrs. Cleary’s influence on other writers, both for children and as children, has furthered the riches available to us as reading and listening choices. Judy Blume, Kate DiCamillo, Sara Pennypacker, Amy Poehler, and Eric A. Kimmel are among many authors she inspired when they read her earlier in their lives, and they, too, are well represented in audiobook choices. It seems a Drop Everything And Listen occasion might be an event with which we listeners would happily DEAL. So grab an audiobook by Beverly Cleary, or by someone who names her as inspiration, and expand your own experience with how extraordinarily engaging and satisfying the ordinary world can sound.
Happy birthday, Beverly Cleary, 100 times!