I didn’t have a ton of friends growing up — which I know is probably hard to believe, given my natural charisma and cheerful disposition.
I always knew, though, that when I came home from school, Ramona Quimby, Howie Kemp, Henry Huggins and the rest of the gang on Klickitat Street would be waiting for me with their usual adventures.
Thank you for that, Beverly Cleary.
Now that I am a published author myself (if you are still looking for a copy of my book about the Troy-Piqua football rivalry, be sure to email me at the address below), I frequently am asked many questions (some of which involve someone wanting a free copy of my book), the most frequent of which is, “What authors inspired you the most?”
Most folks expect me to say someone like Ernest Hemmingway or Harper Lee or, given my career as a sportswriter, Mitch Albom or Mike Lupica. While I find all of those authors to be extremely talented and enjoyable and I’ve read most of their work, I wouldn’t go so far as to say any of them every actually inspired me to be a writer.
My love for the written word began in earnest in the third grade when I began reading the works of children’s author Cleary, who celebrated her 100th birthday earlier this week. Up until that point, all of the children’s books I had read involved either anthropomorphic animals or other magical creatures, or children doing decidedly non-childlike things.
Basically, it was adults writing who thought they remembered how children spoke and acted trying to write what they thought children wanted to read.
All of them missed the mark.
Cleary, however, was different. She was the first — and to this day, one of the only — children’s authors I’ve ever read who writes about normal things that happen to normal kids. She didn’t try to make her characters out to be something they were not, nor did she try to turn her books into a morality play. There were no deep-rooted lessons for kids to learn while reading her books.
They were, quite simply, fun to read and I voraciously read every one she published. Whenever she had a new book released, I was there to buy them, bring them home and read them in one sitting. Yes, this includes the books she published when I was well into high school, college and my time here at the Troy Daily News.
When our daughter Sophie was born, I couldn’t wait until she was old enough to start reading Cleary’s books. I envisioned us sitting around the dinner table, discussing Ramona’s latest hijinx and how Henry Huggins’ clubhouse was coming along. As fate would have it, however, Sophie was never as big a fan of Mrs. Cleary as her father.
No matter. I still read those books to her every night at bedtime for years. I’m not sure how much she ever got out of it, but I enjoyed every second of it as I was able to relive my childhood night after night. As is the case with most classic tales, the books never got old.
So I suppose if I had to select one author who has influenced me the most, it would have to be Cleary. I don’t always tackle the most high-brow topics, but I do try to tell stories to which my readers can relate. I don’t know if I’ve ever managed to sway anyone’s opinion with my deep philosophical insight, but hopefully I’ve made you smile a time or two over the years, as Clearly has done for me for decades.
To me, that is what this job has always been about — telling stories. Hopefully some will make you laugh, some will make you cry and some will touch your heart. If I’ve managed to do that even a few times over the years, I can’t help but think I’ve honored Beverly Cleary’s legacy.
Happy birthday, Beverly Cleary — I hope your birthday is as magical as you’ve made my life.
Troy’s very own David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @thefong