How Beloved Children’s Book Author Beverly Cleary Inspired This Writer

The passing of the award-winning author reminded Ginger Rue of how important it is to see the world through a child’s eye.

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Posted in , Mar 30, 2021

Author Beverly Cleary; photo by San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images

To the untrained eye, a pingpong ball is just a pingpong ball. To a Beverly Cleary fan, it’s two motorcycle helmets for mice. Just cut apart and add rubber band chin straps.

Ever since I read Cleary’s series about Ralph, the motorcycle-riding mouse, I’ve never looked at a pingpong ball—or the world—the same way.  Amazing to think that it’s been more than forty years since I checked out The Mouse and the Motorcycle from my school library in Northport, Alabama, and yet that one particular image is as clear to me as ever.

And why shouldn’t it be? It’s perfect.

Oh, how I wanted a mouse of my own to ride a toy motorcycle around my house! Thanks to Cleary’s genius, a talking rodent friend seemed not only possible but probable.

Cleary, who passed away last week at 104, was one of the main reasons I became a children’s author

While much of children’s literature attempted to explain the world from the point of view of a wise and gentle adult, Cleary created protagonists who saw the world as only children can. I devoured every title that bore Beverly Cleary’s name. She seemed like a friend who understood me in ways I didn’t yet understand myself.

Ginger's grade school -project
      From Ginger’s grade school project on her favorite
      authors, circa 1978.

I’ve written eight children’s books and have always kept Beverly’s sense of wonder in mind. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my own character, 10-year-old Aleca Zamm, would decades later be cut from Cleary’s most popular character—Ramona Quimby’s—cloth: curious, spunky, and the center of all manner of misadventures.

I don’t remember at exactly what age I decided I wanted to write books, but I know that by second or third grade, my teacher assigned a project that allowed us to focus on whatever we wanted. My best friend picked dolphins; I chose children’s authors, with a large chunk of my project being about who else? Beverly Cleary!

I told that story recently to a school group. One of the students said, “That’s amazing! You did your project on children’s authors and then you became one!”

“Yes,” I said. “And even more amazing, my best friend who did her project on dolphins—became a dolphin!”

Really?” the students gasped.

And that perfectly sums up why I love writing for children: the lack of cynicism, the belief that fantastic, magical things can happen. Best friends can become dolphins; mice can ride toy motorcycles and become our friends.

That’s what Beverly Cleary taught me. In the hands of a gifted storyteller, anything is possible… and so very funny.

Ginger Rue’s latest book is nonfiction, Wonder Women of Science, co-authored with rocket scientist Tiera Fletcher, and profiles today’s most outstanding women in STEM fields. You can visit Ginger at www.gingerruebooks.com

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