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My Own Two Feet: A Memoir Paperback – October 1, 1996
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About the Author
Beverly Cleary is one of America's most beloved authors. As a child, she struggled with reading and writing. But by third grade, after spending much time in her public library in Portland, Oregon, she found her skills had greatly improved. Before long, her school librarian was saying that she should write children's books when she grew up.
Instead she became a librarian. When a young boy asked her, "Where are the books about kids like us?" she remembered her teacher's encouragement and was inspired to write the books she'd longed to read but couldn't find when she was younger. She based her funny stories on her own neighborhood experiences and the sort of children she knew. And so, the Klickitat Street gang was born!
Mrs. Cleary's books have earned her many prestigious awards, including the American Library Association's Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, presented to her in recognition of her lasting contribution to children's literature. Dear Mr. Henshaw won the Newbery Medal, and Ramona Quimby, Age 8 and Ramona and Her Father have been named Newbery Honor Books. Her characters, including Beezus and Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Ralph, the motorcycle-riding mouse, have delighted children for generations.
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I won't even go into the nearly sociopathic Mrs. Bunn, a ghastly manipulator with no honest affection for her own daughter -- imagine wearing her daughter's DRESS to meet the fiance, not to mention all the other coldly monstrous things this hyper-critical, controlling, unhappy woman emotionally tortured her own daughter with over the years. I would love to read a third autobiography that somehow Beverly -- now I'm sure too old to write another book at age over 100! -- had gotten those two toxic parents completely out of her life. The Depression didn't "steal their happiness" as she said. They were just mean, nasty, sour people who resented anyone else having youth and a chance at conducting her own fulfilling life. They never should have had a child, but then, of course, we never would have had wonderful Beverly Cleary and her delightful books. At least her husband and children gave her happiness and she had a lot of friends, and deservedly a lot of admirers who appreciated her talent. And, bravest of all, she was happy and successful despite her parents. Her father was kinder and milder, but still an enabler of her dominating mother and therefore just as much to blame. Such people could absolutely ruin a less stronger child, destroy her for the rest of her days so that she'd be afraid to venture out and try anything to better herself. Abuse in a dysfunctional family is not limited to physical or sexual. Beverly's parents had no concept about how to raise a child in a healthy environment, even if they had had wealth -- and there was enough financial security and stability to get by; to blame "worries" for their unrelenting emotional bullying and grasping control of their daughter is no excuse. The sacrifices they made for her to go to school don't merit much forgiveness or understanding to a modern mind. I never understood why so many older people want to suck all the happiness out of the lives of everyone surrounding them. Let them wallow in their own misery, yet they always need to victimize someone else -- or as many people as possible.
I recognize, now, why there seemed to be that "old fashioned" tone in Cleary's first children's novels in the early 1950's about Henry Huggins and the Quimby sisters (and wish there had been more than one book apiece about Ellen Tebbits and Otis Spofford). The careful way of speaking without contractions ("I am" instead of I'm, "can not" instead of can't, etc, reflects the speech of Beverly's own stern ex-schoolteacher mother's early 1900's vernacular. I don't think little girls were forced to wear union suit woolen underwear by circa 1950, even in the chilly and rainy Pacific Northwest climate (was woolen underwear still available by then?) , but it's what Beverly endured in her 1920's childhood, and much of the slang, antics, and pranks of the Portland neighborhood children reflect that era as well. The author got more modern and "with it" as her characters grew and evolved, and at any rate the kids in her books were always really charming and fun, but having her own kids by the mid-1950's probably updated her as much as being a former children's librarian did. I still think 1967's Mitch and Amy, based on her own twins growing up in an academic university community (Berkeley) is one of the funniest and most realistic books about kids I'd ever read; I still remember it word for word 45+ years later. In fact, exactly 50 years ago is when I began reading Beverly Cleary's books, during the summer of 1967 when I was six and going into the first grade -- I was a precocious kid already reading at 4th grader level. All of the Henry and Beezus books were available at our local public library, and then in 1968 the first Ramona book came out (I never read any of the other ones of later decades, for I had long outgrown them). The books for teens are really enjoyable, too, and a dishy microcosm of middle-class, 1950's west coast life -- and somehow the parents in Jean and Johnny, Fifteen, and The Luckiest Girl manage to refrain from being the nightmares of Beverly's own struggling adolescence. I give her a lot of credit.