Beloved author Beverly Cleary turns 100 years old on April 12 (See our interview with the author here). To honor the centenarian, authors and performers gathered at Symphony Space in Manhattan on April 3 to read sections from her novels and celebrate her enduring characters, including Ramona Quimby and a motorcycle-riding mouse named Ralph. The guest speakers were Jeff Kinney, R.J. Palacio, Tony DiTerlizzi, and actors Rebecca Naomi Jones and Michael Urie. The event was hosted by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, who also created live drawings based on the readings from the Ramona Quimby books, which were projected onto a screen. Here are some photo highlights from the event, which was also a benefit for First Book NYC.
Krosoczka brought his own childhood copies of The Mouse and the Motorcycle and its sequel, Runaway Ralph, to the event. He described how the books “left an indelible mark on my life.”
Michael Urie, of Ugly Betty fame, read an excerpt from The Mouse and Motorcycle, complete with motorcycle sound effects, as Krosockza drew at stage right.
Tony DiTerlizzi spoke about Cleary’s path to becoming a writer, and about Louis Darling, whose illustrations for Cleary’s books like Henry Huggins profoundly influenced DiTerlizzi’s work. From May to November of this year, DiTerlizzi said, the Eric Carle Museum will have Darling’s illustrations on display.
“Beverly Cleary has been reaching reluctant readers for decades,” Jeff Kinney said. He read a section from Cleary’s Dear Mr. Henshaw. The Wimpy Kid creator shared with the audience that as a boy, Cleary’s books spoke to him when he struggled as a reader.
R.J. Palacio, who was an avid reader as a child, recounted how she recently consulted her notebooks from third grade and found that her reading list for that year was mainly Beverly Cleary’s books. She reflected on the type of girl Ramona is: “She is small, sometimes scared, but she’s got guts,” she said.
Actor Rebecca Naomi Jones (American Idiot) read from Ramona the Pest – the scene in which Ramona has a misunderstanding with her kindergarten teacher about waiting for “the present.” Kinney drew.
In conversation, DiTerlizzi, Kinney, Krosoczka, and Palacio shared their thoughts on how Cleary’s books and characters stood out as reading choices for struggling readers and visual learners.
The presenters concluded the evening by taking the stage together to sing a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” to Cleary, who was sent a recording of the event. Guests were also invited to sign a large birthday card for Cleary, sharing their own appreciation for the author’s work.