Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Writing Her Dream Into Reality

Writing so others can read it is an act of faith.  It takes courage to shape something from nothing and then send it out into the world.  Unleashing your imagination to fashion a cast of characters, in a specific setting and have them act and react within a set of circumstances, is daunting but exciting.  You need to be fearless when gathering facts through research to present to readers.  Releasing your words, whether it's a phrase on social media or a novel for publication, is following a path in pursuit of your passion.

In 1950 an author published her first of more than forty books.  Today at 103 years old this woman's name is attached to titles of many of the most beloved books read by generations of readers. Just Like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary (Little Bigfoot, an imprint of Sasquatch Books, August 13, 2019) written by Vicki Conrad with illustrations by David Hohn allows readers to follow the life of this remarkable woman from childhood to her initial successes as an author.

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

As an only child her best friends were animals on the farm.  Beverly only had two books and other children in Yamhill needed books, too, so her mother asked for donations for a small library in town.  At first only adult books arrived but her mother persevered, and finally children's books came from the State Library in Oregon.

At six years old Beverly and her parents moved to Portland, Oregon.  This opened a whole new world of friends for her.  Hours were spent roller skating up and down sidewalks, walking around on stilts made from coffee cans and indulging in make-believe.  Although excited about the new school year as a first-grade student, her teacher, her struggles with reading and becoming ill with smallpox were major setbacks.

Thankfully, not having to repeat first grade and acquiring a compassionate second-grade teacher, Beverly's spirits were renewed.  A box of old books in a basement discovered by her mother unlocked the door of longing inside of Beverly.  As a now-avid reader, she began to write, entering contests and winning.  By the time she was in seventh grade her writing was worthy of being read aloud in front of her fellow classmates.

When she attended college in California, she met Clarence Cleary at a dance.  (Two years later they would be married.)  After college graduation, Beverly returned to Washington alone to complete a library science degree.  Her first position as a librarian again reinforced the idea of writing books for children about children; especially funny stories.  So. with her first paycheck, she bought a typewriter.  This typewriter, after her marriage to Clarence, would be the vehicle for writing her first book about a boy and his dog, Ribsy.  Henry Huggins was born, and a new talent entered the world of children's literature. 

As you read the words penned by debut author Vicki Conrad, you find yourself drawn to Beverly Cleary as an individual.  You identify with her childhood struggles, and you relish the warmth and support of her parents.  You feel her struggles initially in the classroom and cheer her future successes.  Vicki Conrad, by the incidents portrayed in this book, has completed meticulous research.  Her use of specific examples binds us to the life and work of Beverly Cleary.  Here is a passage.

Beverly read a few pages. Then she read a few more pages.  And 
a few more.  Before she knew it, the whole afternoon was gone.

At last, Beverly understood the magic of books.  The children in
The Dutch Twins were just like her.  They were funny and had
adventures.  She started the next book right away.  For the first 
time ever, her mother put off bedtime.

What's not to love about Beverly Cleary standing in front of the boy and his dog who would roam the pages of her first publication.  The row of houses is reminiscent of the homes on the street where she played and lived with her new friends in Portland, Oregon.  It's also where her character Henry Huggins lives.  Having Beverly holding books signifies her love of books as a librarian and children's author.  The use of hues of primary colors is wonderful.

To the left, on the back, Beverly is featured doing three different dance steps in a studio.  Her mother enrolled her in ballet classes in Portland, Oregon.  On the opening endpapers, illustrator David Hohn, showcases the farm, barn, windmill, home and other out buildings in Yamhill.  It is done in muted colors with a vast sky and a field of new corn growing in the foreground in front of a fence.  On the closing endpapers is another vast pale yellow/green sky with a row of houses along a street.  Will readers notice a familiar home?

On the title page we see the bottom portion of young Beverly sitting on a branch in an apple tree.  Half-eaten apples are strewn on the grass below.  Throughout the book illustrator David Hohn uses double -page pictures, single-page illustrations and groups of smaller images on a single page to elevate and complement the narrative.  They are fully animated.

For special effects when Beverly is imagining something these appear above her among golden tones.  Sometimes the point of view is as if we are watching an incident unfold from above Beverly.  One poignant example is when her first-grade teacher places her alone in the coatroom.  Beverly sat on the floor and cried.  (You wish you could run right into that image and console her.)

One of my many favorite pictures is on a single page.  Beverly is standing outside her classroom in the doorway.  There is a bit of light around her. She received a free book for writing a review for the Oregon Journal.  They published her review and her picture which is shown in the newspapers held up by several of her classmates.  Others are pointing at her with pride.  (It's a huge moment for a girl who was placed in the lowest reading group in first grade.)

This book, Just Like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary written by Vicki Conrad with illustrations by David Hohn, is an excellent nonfiction picture book biography.  At the close of the book is an extended author's note titled How Beverly Bloomed.  In these six pages we learn even more about this amazing woman and her work. Following this is a two-page Timeline from 1916 to 2016.  You will want to have this in your personal and professional collections for author studies, for inspiring and aspiring writers and for learning about the woman who created many wonderful stories.

Vicki Conrad has an account on Twitter.  To learn more about David Hohn and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  David Hohn has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. David Hohn is interviewed at Brightly. At Sasquatch Books you can view the first seven pages along with the title page.  The cover was revealed at A Fuse #8 Production by Elizabeth Bird, Collection Development Manager at Evanston Public Library system.

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the title selected this week by participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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