How do you mark a legendary author’s milestone birthday? If you’re HarperCollins Children’s Books, and the birthday girl is your author Beverly Cleary, who turns 100 on April 12, you start a few months ahead of time. Harper was early out of the gate paying tribute, with the January publication of new editions of a trio of her most popular titles featuring forewords by three notable fans and fellow authors. “We have an in-house team that works on all things Beverly Cleary, which includes people from the marketing, publicity, and editorial departments,” explains v-p and editorial director Rosemary Brosnan. “We meet every so often, whether it’s about new covers, new illustrations, or anything else that comes up. [In this case] we met with the publisher, editor-in-chief, sales, and marketing and brought together some projects that had been done previously for other properties.” The decision was soon made to do forewords for some of Cleary’s “iconic bestselling and best-known titles,” and “[assistant editor] Alyssa [Miele] came up with a list of potential people to ask,” Brosnan says. Those plans came to fruition in January, when three titles were released: Ramona Quimby, Age 8, with a foreword by Amy Poehler; Henry Huggins, with a foreword by Judy Blume; and The Mouse and the Motorcycle, with a foreword by Kate DiCamillo. The books also contain a Cleary q&a.
According to Brosnan, Cleary was very pleased when she read these new tributes. “She gives her input on everything we do,” she adds. Miele concurs. “Beverly is so sharp and collaborative. When we did the previous repackages with new art by Jacqueline Rogers, she was looking over all the sketches and making notes,” Miele says.
The book birthday party continues with the release this month of a new read-aloud edition of Ramona Quimby, Age 8 featuring a larger trim size and easy-to-read text, as well as a new edition of Cleary’s 1988 memoir, A Girl from Yamhill, with a redesigned cover. “We used elements to make it look all-of-a-piece with the other repackaged books,” Brosnan notes. “That first memoir is very much her when she was young,” Brosnan says, a quality that holds strong appeal for younger readers.
Schools, libraries, and bookstores all over the country are planning events and displays in Cleary’s honor, often tying in with DEAR (Drop Everything and Read), which is a Ramona-inspired campaign observed each April (often on the 12th) that celebrates the joy of reading. A Today show interview and a new documentary from Oregon Public Broadcasting, Discovering Beverly Cleary—which includes commentary from authors, artists, editors, educators, family members, and Cleary herself—aired March 25 and April 7, respectively. And on April 3, Cleary was feted with a program at Symphony Space in New York City that featured readings by such authors as Jeff Kinney, and discussion of her books by authors Tony DiTerlizzi and R.J. Palacio. The event, part of the Thalia Kids’ Book Club series, raised funds for Team First Book New York City, a nonprofit organization providing books to children in need.
On a more personal note, the folks at HarperCollins are sending orchids (Cleary’s favorite, and the team’s traditional gift to her) as well as a giant birthday card signed by staff and by fans from across the country, whose signatures were gathered during conferences and events over the past several months. At an in-house party later this week, staffers will snack on custom cookies.
“We really cherish Beverly Cleary and treasure her books,” Brosnan says, summing up her feelings about one of her favorite people. “We feel honored to work on them.” And Miele agrees, noting that any Cleary-related day is special. “It’s always the best part of my day when I’m working on her stuff,” she says.
A Look at the New Cleary Forewords
Miele and Brosnan shared the process behind selecting the authors who contributed forewords to Cleary’s recently reissued novels.
“We wanted to ask Judy [Blume] for Henry Huggins because she has an iconic character like Henry in Fudge,” says Miele. “And she has spoken before about how Beverly influenced her becoming a writer.”
An excerpt from Blume’s foreword: “There is no one who tells a story the way Beverly Cleary does. She has said she was a storyteller long before she was a writer. I understand. I feel the same way. The magic in her writing is that she makes it seem so easy. She’s able to capture the essence of childhood. We might not all have childhoods like her characters, we might not have parents like Henry Huggins does or dogs like Ribsy, but there’s something about her stories that makes kids all over the world love them.”
“We thought Kate [DiCamillo] would be perfect for Ralph S. Mouse because of her book The Tale of Despereaux and the obvious mouse connection,” Miele says. In this excerpt, DiCamillo recalls an incident where her family’s pet mouse when missing:
“ ‘I can’t believe that I paid money for a mouse,’ said my mother. ‘I can’t believe that I bought a mouse. And now he’s loose in the house—doing who knows what.’ Which was exactly what I was thinking—who knew what Pinky was doing? I had read Beverly Cleary’s book The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and I knew that the objects and people and mice of the world were not at all as they seemed on the surface. I knew that, in the right circumstances, mice could do impossible, improbable things. For instance, they could ride toy motorcycles. And they could communicate with people. Mice could, if they wanted to, talk. Of course, I said none of this to my brother or my mother. They wouldn’t have believed me anyway.”
And finally, “for Ramona we wanted to pick someone who would represent the book to the outside world, not just the world of children’s literature,” Brosnan says. “When we got in touch with Amy [Poehler] and her agent, we found out she was a huge fan.” Miele added, “When we thought of a foreword for Ramona, we thought of a strong-minded, sassy character. Amy is known for her humor and for standing up against societal wrongs. She is the true spirit child of Ramona.” An excerpt from Poehler’s foreword: “Great characters ring true and resonate long after we have finished reading. Ramona Quimby is that kind of character. A boisterous bell that continues to ring for children and adults everywhere, Ramona Quimby is a young girl with a keen sense of justice. She is feverish and frustrated, driven by a passion that can come only from a kid who is in a hurry to grow up. She does not suffer fools. She is full of vim and vigor. She is a tiny warrior, a whirling dervish, and a funny five-alarm fire.”