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What Beverly Cleary Meant to a Girl From Oregon


collage: the cover of Ramona Forver and a 1955 headshot of Beverly Clearly

It was something about the name Klickitat Street. As a kid, names in books were all a bit mysterious, and when I first heard of Klickitat Street I was at that age when you’re not quite sure what the line is between made-up stories and reality. I don’t even think I read the name myself, I think the first time I really heard it was my mother reading it to me, and it was one of those places that seemed far off and at the same time, it was right around the corner because from Klickitat street you could see Mount Hood. And I saw the same mountain on sunny days, just like Ramona did.

Many, many children grew up with the work of Beverly Cleary, and I know that for so many of us, her passing last Saturday at the age of 104 felt like losing a beloved grandparent or friend. She set the standard for generations of children’s authors by giving us heroes with scraped knees and simple problems. Her books were just about neighborhood kids and the adventure of childhood, and for kids like me who grew up in Oregon, it was particularly special to see my own hometown as the setting for Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins’ exploits.

I remember the Ramona books so vividly because they gave me the impression that my world was the one in books. When Ramona talked about the lump on the side of Mount Hood or the treat at Meier and Frank department store, I knew those things and places. It made my own world into something more. If my world was in the pages of that book, if there were whole stories about little pests like me, that meant that my little world and life mattered.

The book that still stays with me all these years later is Ramona Forever, I think because in the book her aunt gets married and around the same time I read it, my aunt got married as well. The combination of the setting in my town and the story that felt so close to home just made me feel special. It made Oregon and my own little cul-de-sac feel special. I was the main character in my own story, just like Ramona.

And that’s why Cleary’s work has endured for all these years. Because she showed kids that we mattered. Cleary’s books did more than entertain kids, they showed us that our lives were worth being the subjects of stories. We didn’t need to be heroes or magical to be literary subjects, we just had to be us. In all our messiness and peskiness, we mattered.

People who come to Portland take Beverly Cleary walking tours, they visit Klickatat street and see the schools and children’s library section named after her. But it was so special to grow up with these books about my little corner of the world and to feel like that world was so important. I still think of Ramona every time I see a three-way mirror and driving by Kilickitat street still feels a bit like visiting Middle Earth.

Beverly Cleary made childhood, just as it was, the story. And for that, I will always treasure her and her works. Especially for this girl from Oregon, she’ll go on forever.

(image: Dell books/Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.