I still remember, distinctly, being sick and staying home all day with Beverly Cleary books when I was a little kid. Henry Huggins was my favorite. He had a dog, he had a paper route, he had a raccoon-tail hat, and he was fascinating—whatever it was that made him fascinating, I can't remember (was he my first crush?), but I couldn't stop reading Henry Huggins and Henry and Beezus and Henry and Ribsy and Henry and the Paper Route and Henry and the Clubhouse and Ribsy.
I remember the next day I told my mom I was still sick, even though I wasn't, so I could stay in bed and read.
Later, I got into the Ramona Quimby books, which were more popular, but were originally offshoots of the Henry Huggins books. I didn't realize until reading this that all those books were set in Portland, Oregon. ("The elementary school she attended in Portland was named after her in 2008.")
Yesterday, in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote about how Henry Huggins came about:
Cleary eventually excelled in school and in college and found a job as a librarian in Yakima, Wash. A boy there complained that there weren’t any books about kids like him.
In response, Cleary sat down and wrote about Henry Huggins and his dog, Spareribs. She thought her characters needed siblings, so she decided to torment Henry’s friend Beezus with a pesky little sister — “and at that moment someone called out ‘Ramona,’ so I named her Ramona.”
An editor suggested a few changes — such as turning “Spareribs” into “Ribsy” — and the book was published to immediate acclaim. Later volumes followed, including a series focused on Ramona, one of the great figures in children’s literature.
And how does Cleary feel about turning 100? Kristof called her up and asked her, and she answered, dryly: "I didn't plan on it."