Sunday, October 26, 2008

Beverly Cleary -- Who Knew?

I've been reading Beverly Cleary ever since I was a kid, so I thought I was well acquainted with her oeuvre. But I never knew that she had written Leave it to Beaver tie-in novels.

But Peter D. Sieruta of Collecting Children's Books spilled the beans in his post, Leave it to Beverly which is written in the form of a dialog between Wally and Beaver Cleaver. I'd never heard of these three novelizations, Leave it to Beaver, Here's Beaver, and Beaver and Wally. Apparently Cleary didn't talk about them much, and Sieruta says that the only reference to them that he's found was in Beverly Cleary by Pat Pflieger, published in 1991.

"These books...have little of Cleary in them: they lack her air of easy confidence, and she seems uncomfortable with Beaver's 'gee-whiz' style of thinking and speaking that is so different from her own Henry Huggins. In novels that are almost collections of short stories, television episodes are expanded or altered or combined to emphasize family and growing up."

Sieruta currently works as a cataloger of children's books for a university (what a dream job!) and writes about my favorite genre in a way that is both personal and personable. I've put him on my list of Blogs to Check Every Day.

The first of his posts I stumbled across was this one which has pictures of his Newberry collection. As you know, I'm a sucker for photos of other peoples' libraries. But then I began to nose around his archives and discovered so many favorite posts that I'll have to limit myself to just three links.

Colorblind Writing is about making assumptions about an author's ethnicity based on the protagonists in his books, something which was probably more likely to happen before the appearance of the Internet where information about an author is just a click or two away.

Hornbooks and Battledores is a fun post about these forerunners of the primer, though I was surprised that the author hadn't previously known that hornbooks were actually covered by a thin layer of horn.

Library Lesson, one of my favorite posts, captures the school culture I remember from my own childhood, particularly the experience of being accused by an adult in authority of a misdeed of which one was innocent.

Which sort of brings me back to Beverly Cleary. One of the things she does so well is to portray her characters' experiences from a child's point of view. When you read her books, you really do see things through a child's eyes. They rang true when I first read them in the '50s; they rang true when I read her later books to my own children in the '80s. And they still ring true today as I discovered last week when I read Ramona's World which was published in 1999. That title, which had previously escaped me, was brought to my attention in Beverly Cleary by Jennifer Peltak, a title in the "Who Wrote That" series. It was heavily based on Cleary's two memoirs, A Girl From Yamhill and My Own Two Feet. I discovered it when I was emptying the bookdrop at the public library where I now work and checked it out because I was curious how the author would present Cleary's life to present day children. On the whole, she did a pretty good job of telling her audience what I would have most wanted to know about Beverly Cleary when I was a child: how did she come to write all those books? Because when I was a little girl, Beverly Cleary was the person I wanted to be when I grew up.

And I still remember the light bulb moment of my childhood when I realized that my other favorite author, Louisa May Alcott, was the Beverly Cleary of the 19th century. Like Cleary, Alcott's characters spoke a life-like idiom which her readers identified with.* In the books of both authors, universal themes were clothed in the characters' ordinary experiences and seasoned with a good deal of humor.

Alas, I never did grow up to write stories about ordinary boys and girls. And eventually fantasy became my favorite subgenre both for reading and writing. But even in fantasy, I still feel that the most successful books are grounded in the ordinary and have at least a dash of humor.


*Did you know that some of the grammar and slang in Little Women was cleaned up between the first and second editions?

Update: Here's the link to the first edition republished by Norton Critical Editions.


Sherwood said...

That's a good insight about Cleary and Alcott.

I didn't know the grammar and slang had been sanitized--now I want a first edition of LW!

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

A Norton Critical Edition of it was published in 2004 which includes a complete list of textual variants in the back and some useful annotations in the text itself. It's $11.95 from Amazon. (I'll put a link in the text as I don't know how to do it here in the comment box.)