Wednesday, March 31, 2021

RIP Beverly Cleary

I'm a few days late on this post, but I couldn't let the passing of Beverly Cleary go unmentioned.

When I was in 4th grade, our teacher, Mrs. Heineke, read a passage to us from "Runaway Ralph" by Beverly Cleary.  I was instantly hooked.

By then, I already enjoyed reading, but strictly of shorter children's books like Babar the Elephant,  the works of Dr. Seuss, the Berenstain Bears, "Harold and the Purple Crayon", "Where the Wild Things Are", etc. This would be my introduction to "chapter" books.  

It helped that the cover was so darn cool.  The blazing red cover with a mouse riding hell-bent down a hill, wearing a crash helmet made from half a ping pong ball and a rubber band, whiskers blowing in the wind and his tail carefully tucked under his arm to keep it out of the spokes clinched it. How could I NOT want to read this?

I found this first edition copy at a garage sale years ago, and despite already having a newer paperback copy of it, I was compelled to buy it because A. It was "Runaway Ralph", B. It was the edition I first read and C. C'mon.  It's a first edition copy!   

What I didn't know at the time I first read this book (checked out from our school library), was this was actually a sequel to "The Mouse and the Motorcycle".  However, the book reintroduces Ralph the mouse so well, I assumed it was all just necessary backstory to get us to the launching point of this book.  And launch, it did.  

Ralph, disgruntled for being forced to push his "squeaky" younger siblings and cousins on his motorcycle around the hotel lobby where he lived, decides to leave it all behind for the open road.

I was enthralled with the story both by Cleary's words as well as Louis Darling's illustrations.  I easily visualized the dark Summer night when Ralph left the Mountain View Inn, headed toward the bugle sounds of a distant summer camp; I could hear the "Pb-pb-b-b-b" roar of the engine supplied by Ralph's own lips (I never questioned why this sound effect made the motorcycle actually work). I felt the wind as the cars and logging trucks roared by, causing Ralph's motorcycle to shudder and veer off the road. Reading it that first day, I lost all track of time and existence in class.  It was like being alone, oblivious to everything around me.  I was in Ralph's world.  Suddenly, there was a tapping on my desk. It was our Art teacher who had arrived for her semi-regular exercise in painting, drawing, cutting and/or pasting.  I embarrassedly put away Ralph in my flip-top desk.  But the next opportunity, probably that night at home, I dove back in. I don't remember for sure, but I probably completed the book in one sitting. 

After reading "Runaway Ralph", I sought out more books by Beverly Cleary.  I read the aforementioned "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" which although I enjoyed, didn't quite match my feelings for "Runaway Ralph", probably due to the fact it was the first book, although out of order, that introduced me to Ralph and his world. I proceeded to the "Ramona" series, again, reading them out of order by beginning with "Ramona the Brave".  Although Ramona was girl, I easily related to her feelings towards school and the kids around her.

I did eventually read other books by Beverly Cleary, including the "Henry Huggins" books and "Ribsy". Again, while they were good reads, they lacked the magic of the Ralph and Ramona books.  And sadly, I'd outgrown these book levels by the time the third in the series,  "Ralph S. Mouse", was published in 1982.

It's hard to feel too sorry and expect more for someone who reached 104.  But even so, I feel like the world is lesser for her passing, albeit greater for her living.


  1. here we go again: twins sons of different parents. i was opining on twitter the other day about how Beverly Cleary's "Mouse and the Motorcycle," "Runaway Ralph," and "Ramona the Pest" made me love reading. just the image of the mouse on the motorcycle brings back so many emotions for me. what a great post... we had the same emotional experience with those books in different cities, for sure.

    1. I knew something drew us together when we met later in life. We just didn't know it was the love of "Runaway Ralph".
      I failed to mention, I did attempt to force my own pet mouse onto a toy motorcycle. It was decidedly disinterested.

    2. you had a mouse? i would've tried it if i had one, i'm sure. sadly i don't think the hermit crab i had at the time would've gone for it.

    3. Many over the years. The terror I put them through...

  2. Cleary's Otis Spofford (1953) is probably the most understanding and perceptive account of a "class clown" that I've ever read. And that it was written by a middle-aged woman is even more remarkable. She got kids, no question.

    Thanks also for giving a shout-out of sorts to her longtime illustrator, Louis Darling. I think that her books lost a little of their magic when he passed away. I never cared for his replacement.

    1. I've never read Otis Spofford. I'll have to pick it up if I see it.
      I agree about the illustrations. I too never cared for the later replacements in her books.


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