The Scholastic Holiday Catalog you all received today is designed for all levels and interests, and as a result, it can take a little digging to ﬁnd those books that are well-suited to readers over the age of ﬁve and under the age of ten: complexity without an overabundance of raw emotion, dynamism without the frantic “quick cuts” that sometime predominate popular children’s literature.
In the heart of the catalog, however, there is a true gem: The Beverly Cleary Collection. Beverly Cleary’s work continues to draw children (and their parents) into a world that is simultaneously charming and realistic. Her characters have difﬁculties, yes, but her books offer a safe landing after any conﬂict. Cleary recognizes that the emotional journey of childhood isn’t simple, and her works were considered radical at the time of their writing.
In 1950, when Henry Huggins was published, children’s literature was in a post-war aspirational phase of relentless positivity. The vast majority of literature available to children was designed to assure parents, weary from years of war, that childhood could be a walled garden, shielding young ones from the wild swings of feeling and circumstance that had marked the previous decade. What many publishers didn’t understand was the natural emotional whirl of childhood, and the pleasure children ﬁnd in discovering characters that reﬂect that.
Cleary, a children’s librarian, heard children longing for the sort of books that she sought when she was young, stories in which characters felt deeply, laughed a little too loudly sometimes, and, most importantly, made mistakes.
Cleary’s books have lasted because she understands her audience. She knows they’re sometimes confused or frightened by the world around them, and that they feel deeply about things that adults can dismiss.
Pat Pﬂieger, professor of children’s literature at West Chester University
Here’s a glimpse of the changing covers of one of Cleary’s classics, Bezus and Ramona, over the nearly sixty years since its publication. The Beverly Cleary Collection, consisting of thirteen titles, is available this month for 41.99.