By Christian Holub
March 26, 2021 at 05:50 PM EDT

Beverly Cleary, the iconic children's author behind such books as Henry Huggins, Beezus and Ramona, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle, died Thursday in Carmel, Calif., where she had lived since the 1960s. She was 104.

"We are saddened by the passing of Beverly Cleary, one of the most beloved children's authors of all time," said Suzanne Murphy, president and publisher of HarperCollins Children's Books, in a statement. "Looking back, she'd often say, 'I've had a lucky life,' and generations of children count themselves lucky too — lucky to have the very real characters Beverly Cleary created, including Henry Huggins, Ramona and Beezus Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse, as true friends who helped shape their growing-up years. We at HarperCollins also feel extremely lucky to have worked with Beverly Cleary and to have enjoyed her sparkling wit. Her timeless books are an affirmation of her everlasting connection to the pleasures, challenges, and triumphs that are part of every childhood."

Beverly Cleary
Beverly Cleary
| Credit: Alan McEwan

Cleary was famous for her iconic characters like the inimitable Ramona Quimby and her easily annoyed big sister "Beezus." Cleary's first children's book — about a boy named Henry Huggins and his mutt Ribsy — was published in 1950, but more than half a century later, all her 40-plus novels remain in print. A movie adaptation of Beezus and Ramona, starring Selena Gomez, was released in 2010.

Although Cleary's work was dotted with details from her own life, it remained universally accessible over the years. Instead of trying to mimic youth slang or culture, she wrote slice-of-life stories about relatable topics for youth — jealousy, loneliness, and change — all with a heaping helping of humor. She inhabited the minds of her young protagonists and refused to talk down to them.

"I like children the way they are," she told People in 2010.

Born and raised on a fruit farm in Yamhill, Ore., Cleary studied library science at the University of Washington and got a job as a children's librarian in Yakima, Wash. It was there that she encountered a group of young boys disappointed with the selection of children's literature available at that time — moral fables or fantastic adventure, mostly. "Where are the books," a young boy asked her, "for kids like us?" Cleary's work became an answer to that need. She always kept in mind the advice of her college writing professor: The proper subject of the novel is the universal human experience.

Cleary's work was drawn from her experiences growing up in Portland in the 1920s and 1930s (chronicled in her adult memoirs My Own Two Feet and A Girl from Yamhill), but her work resisted idyllic nostalgia. Though the days where children were allowed to roam around the neighborhood unsupervised seem far behind us now, the spirit of Ramona is still recognizable to any kid who worries about getting replaced by a younger sibling, or who keeps getting in trouble despite the best of intentions."Children want the same things my generation wanted — a home with loving parents, and children to play with in safe neighborhoods," Cleary told the New York Times in 2011. "And funny books about children like themselves."

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