Happy 104th Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

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Happy 104th Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

Celebrate with her books and some great read-alikes

On Sunday, April 12, 2020, Beverly Cleary celebrated her 104th (that's right -- 104th) birthday!

During her childhood in Oregon, Cleary struggled to learn to read, but there was never a question about whether she loved books. At a young age, she even decided she wanted to write them, specifically, "the books she longed to read but was unable to find on the library shelves: funny stories about her neighborhood and the sort of children she knew."¹ Cleary kept to that vision as she wrote her books, and it's what makes them so special. Her characters -- Henry Huggins, Beezus and Ramona Quimby, Ellen Tebbits, "Muggie" Maggie, Leigh Botts -- have remained relevant for generations, largely because they are three dimensional people. They are adventurous and fun-loving, with rich inner lives -- real emotions, complex thoughts, and moral quandaries -- just like real children. And for those who like a little fantasy and whimsy, she of course also created that motorcycle-riding rodent, Ralph S. Mouse.

To celebrate Beverly Cleary's birthday, you can check out or place holds on many of her titles in e-book and audiobook format on Overdrive, or using the Libby app on your smartphone or tablet. (Protip: the audiobook versions of the Ramona books are some of my favorites, narrated splendidly by Stockard Channing). And when you've breezed through all the adventures of Ramona and Henry and Ribsy and Socks, (or while you're patiently waiting for your holds), check out one or two of these read-alikes, all available in digital formats, that have similar qualities and themes to those of Beverly Cleary's books. 

The New Small Person by Lauren Child
This picture book will resonate with younger fans of Ramona and Beezus' older/younger sibling dynamic. A short, sweet, and funny tale about Elmore Green, a young kid who is just bopping along, enjoying life as an only child, until a new, small person enters the picture (spoiler alert: it's a baby sister). With bright, bold illustrations, emotional integrity, and of course her signature humor, author Lauren Child takes readers on Elmore's emotional rollercoaster ride as he learns to live with this new small person.

Ivy & Bean series by Annie Barrows
This early chapter book series kicks off with Ivy and Bean, in which an unlikely friendship, born out of necessity, develops between two very different girls -- Ivy being studious and reserved, Bean being bold and adventurous. Each book in the series delivers a little bit of mischief and a lot of fun, all grounded in Ivy and Bean's odd-couple personalities. For other chapter book series for younger readers featuring spunky girls, check out Megan McDonald's Judy Moody books, or the Piper Reed series by Kimberly Willis Holt.

Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo
The title character of this early chapter book series, Mercy Watson, a pig full of personality, will appeal to fans of Ralph S. Mouse. The whole world that is built in this series is so fun, with lively and endearing characters, vibrant illustrations, and smart, laugh-out-loud funny writing by two-time Newbery award-winner Kate DiCamillo. In addition to the Mercy Watson titles available through Overdrive/Libby, some titles in this series (including book one, Mercy Watson to the Rescue) are also available to read in video story book format (with no wait time!) using Tumblebooks through DCPL's website. Just search "Mercy Watson" in the Tumblebooks search bar, and sit back for story time; or, take advantage of the pause and mute functions to better control your reading experience.

Elvis and the Underdogs by Jenny Lee
Like The Mouse and the Motorcycle, this is a whimsical tale of an anthropomorphic animal and his relationship to humans (though in this case, our furry protagonist is not a tiny mouse but a two-hundred pound dog). Human protagonist Benji faces a wide array of problems. He is small for his age, has myriad health issues, and is dealing with the school bully and a serious lack of friends -- that is, until his doctors prescribe a therapy dog. The "therapy dog" turns out to be something more than just that -- a giant, talking Newfoundland, who helps to add some magic and friends (including the human kind) to Benji's life. Despite dealing with some heavier issues like bullying and illness, Elvis and the Underdogs manages to be funny, adventurous, and upbeat.

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
In this work of realistic fiction that's just right for younger elementary school students, second grader Billy Miller deals with stuff most kids can relate to: conflict with siblings, worries about school, friendship challenges, and new responsibilities.  The restrained writing and gentle humor will appeal to adults as well, making for an enjoyable family sharing experience. 

Dara Palmer's Major Drama by Emma Shevah
Much like Beverly Cleary, author Emma Shevah combines humor and levity with real-life conflict and complexity in this tale of an aspiring star of the stage. Fifth grader Dara thinks of little else besides Hollywood and movie stars and acting, and when she doesn't get the lead part in her school's production of The Sound of Music, she's more than disappointed. She worries that the decision has less to do with her acting ability than with her Cambodian heritage -- was she not cast in the lead because her looks don't match the part? Even as she navigates issues of race, identity, and her own insecurity, Dara steps up in classic take-charge heroine fashion and decides to write a play about her own life, where she is, of course, the star. With first person narration and fun doodle-style illustrations, this one also has appeal for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries, and graphic novels.

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy
If you're a fan of interesting family dynamics and real-kid adventures, meet the family Fletcher -- a large and vibrant family made up of two dads, four boys, two real pets, and one imaginary cheetah. The family is not perfect, and each kid has their own challenges going on, but the love and positivity is palpable. Lots of characters combined with humorous mini-plots make for a fast-paced, charming audiobook listening experience.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
This first of in a trilogy about the Gaither sisters will hold appeal for older Beverly Cleary fans who appreciate realistic explorations of relationships and emotions coupled with humor. Taking place in 1968, the story focuses in on the experience of oldest of the three sisters, eleven-year-old Delphine, as the trio travels from Brooklyn, New York to Oakland, California to spend the summer with their mother, whom they haven't seen in years. Delphine has dreams of Disneyland and hopes for her relationship with her mother, but when the sisters arrive, the reality doesn't quite match her fantasies. The kids deal with real issues -- a complicated family, racism, the politics of the time they are living in -- with lots of love and honesty and nuance. And throughout, there is also lots of laughter. This is the start of one of my favorite middle grade series of all time. Available in both e-book and audiobook format.

Happy Reading,