Author Beverly Cleary, ’39, changed the world of children’s literature — and the lives of countless children — with her unparalleled body of work. We mourn her passing today, but we celebrate her extraordinary life and the indelible legacy she leaves for young readers. We could not be more proud to count her as an alumna and to be the home of the Beverly Cleary Endowed Professorship in Children and Youth Services in the Information School.
Cleary authored more than 30 award-winning children’s books, and the characters she created have sparked a love of reading in generation upon generation of children. Like so many, I grew up reading about Henry Huggins, Ramona and her sister Beezus, and those authentic, compelling stories have stayed with me ever since. Today’s rich array of children’s literature owes an enormous debt to Cleary’s profound innovation of creating high-quality, realistic writing for children. Her books were unusual in speaking frankly and without condescension to children about real issues and problems, and their honesty has kept them on the shelves and in demand for decades. For millions of young readers, myself included, Cleary’s books were the gateway to a lifelong enjoyment of books and learning.
Cleary remembered her education in what was then the UW’s School of Library and Information Science, Cleary with great fondness; she recalled Professor Siri Andrews’ course in storytelling as “invaluable…because writing for children is storytelling.” As a student, Cleary specialized in work with children and throughout her life, she advocated for librarians’ ability to help children connect with literature, with outspoken vigor.
Fittingly, future children’s librarians will be able to help carry on her legacy thanks to the Cleary Professorship, which supports a senior scholar in the field of youth and library services. As Professor Michelle H. Martin, who holds the Cleary Chair and who has written a remembrance of Cleary, discovered upon meeting Cleary in person, “Mrs. Cleary had strong opinions about things and conveyed her feelings with clarity and conviction.” Cleary’s life and work might well be summed up in that phrase: clarity and conviction.
We remain deeply grateful for Cleary’s lifelong involvement with the UW, and she will be missed in our community as well as by her legions of fans all over the world. We send our thoughts and condolences to her family and loved ones, and there is great comfort in knowing that her legacy is not only assured, but as reachable as the nearest bookshelf.