The Picture Book Buzz

Just Like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

August 16, 2019

It's probably horrible to admit, but I have never read Ramona. She just never appealed to me. But the Mouse and the Motorcycle, and Runaway Ralph, I devoured these books. I'm not sure that I would say I saw myself in these books; I am not a mouse nor have I any interest in having one as a pet. Instead, these books were an escape, something totally different from where I was at the time. 

 

Beverly Cleary is a masterful author in her ability to provide children with a chance to see themselves in books. While also appealing to readers with different experiences, giving them a glimpse into someone else's life. The escapes of a child in rural Oregon are going to be different than those of a child in New York. Though the same core desires for adventure, imagination, fun, and friends remain universal. 

 

Vicki Conrad and David Hohn beautifully captured the life, influences, and history of the amazing author Beverly Cleary in this heartfelt tribute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary

 

Author: Vicki Conrad

 

Illustrator: David Hohn

 

Publisher: little bigfoot/Sasquatch Books (2019)

 

Ages: 5-9

 

Nonfiction Biography

 

Themes:

Persistence, following your dreams, and humor. 

 

Synopsis:

As a young girl, Beverly Cleary struggled to learn to read and found most children's books dull and uninteresting. She often wondered if there were any books about kids just like her. With hard work, and the encouragement of her parents and a special teacher, she learned to read and at a young age discovered she had a knack for writing. 

Beverly Cleary's story comes to life in this narrative nonfiction picture book as she grows to follow her dreams of writing the books she longed for as a child, becoming an award-winning writer and one of the most famous children's authors of all time. 

Beautiful illustrations capture Cleary's sense of humor, struggles, and triumphs, and are filled with Easter eggs throughout for fans to discover.

 

Opening lines:

On a farm near Yamhill, Oregon, lived a girl named Beverly Bunn.

She had no siblings and there were no other children nearby, so her

playmates were farm animals. She fed baby birds, climbed trees,

and followed horses around the fields.

 

What I liked about this book:

This book is a fun cross section of Beverly Cleary's life. An evaluation of the influences, both good and bad, that led to her becoming an award winning, beloved children's author. David Hohn's illustrations beautifully re-create the ups and the down of Beverly's life. The soft, vintage-like illustrations are a time capsule look at the evolution of clothing styles and society. I especially enjoyed the swirled images David created when Beverly dreamed, read, and created her stories. 

Text © Vicki Conrad, 2019. Image © David Hohn, 2019.

 

 

Since Beverly Cleary strove to write stories for kids "just like her," it is fitting and poignant that David Hohn's illustrations of a young Beverly resemble her lively, beloved character Ramona.

 

For instance, on the title page, Beverly's legs are visible in an apple tree with the ground strewn with nibbled apples which will remind readers of Ramona's saying that "the first bite of an apple tastes best."

 

 

Conquering the span of a lifetime can be difficult within the confines of a picture book. However, Vicki Conrad brilliantly wove two threads into a fun narrative of Beverly Clearly. First, if you don't see yourself in books, then write them yourselves. Throughout her childhood, Beverly often wondered why none of the "children in the stories [ever] did anything interesting, and they weren't funny like her friends." Later, when she became a librarian, kids often asked her the same question.

Text © Vicki Conrad, 2019. Image © David Hohn, 2019.

 

So, Beverly decided to write these books. To write stories for kids, who like her struggled to read or found existing books boring. But a moment of self-doubt triggered Vicki's other thread - talk is cheap, if you don't try, you'll never succeed. In fourth grade, Beverly won a story contest, because her friends, who planned to enter, didn't and she was the only one who submitted a story. Vicki does a great job showing how these two philosophies intertwined and drove Beverly to become "one of the most celebrated authors in the world."

 

For teachers and devoted fans, Vicki included a more detailed 6-page biography and a timeline. This is a tender tribute to a writer who has touched many lives. A wonderful book for anyone who loves Beverly Cleary's books or is looking for an excellent nonfiction biography to add to a collection. 

 

Resources:

- check out an interview of Beverly Cleary about turning 100 (https://www.nextavenue.org/beverly-cleary-is-turning-100-by-accident/);

- read 100 facts about Beverly Cleary (https://www.cbc.ca/books/100-things-you-might-not-know-about-beverly-cleary-to-celebrate-her-103rd-birthday-1.4095050) - including that there is a life-sized Beverly Cleary bronze statute garden in Grant Park in Portland, Oregon; 

- what story would you ike to read? Does it esixt already? If not, then write or draw YOUR story; or

- read about the Library of Congress' "Letters About Literature" for grades 4-12 (http://read.gov/letters/), write a letter to an author about how their book affected you. Then submit it to the competition (if you're old enough) or send it to the author.

 

If you missed Vicki Conrad's interview on Monday, find it (here). 

 

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

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