Beverly Cleary: She Inspired Many, But What Were Her Inspirations?

Picture of Beverly Cleary
Source: Christina Kochi Hernandez/Getty Images

By Suzanne W. Hawley, MLS

I sighed sadly when I read of Beverly Cleary’s death on March 25. Those of us who work with children’s books revered her as an iconic figure in our field. She lived a long and full life, but I guess I thought she would always be with us. Still, 104 years isn’t bad!

Cleary often spoke about the original inspiration for her first novel, “Henry Huggins,” which was published in 1950. After college at UC Berkeley, she returned to her childhood home of Oregon to work as a librarian in Yakima. Tired of hearing her young patrons asking for “books about us,” and remembering she had experienced the same frustrations as a youngster, she set to work. To all of our enduring delight, she succeeded in developing the magical recipe for funny, smart stories about engaging characters…just like the kids in her own neighborhood.

Many years ago, I had the pleasure of listening to Cleary at an ALA Conference. She was an absolute delight. She was charming, funny, and perhaps a little shy. She talked about her life and career and included several stories about how her books came to life. Someone asked about the inspiration for “The Mouse and the Motorcycle.”

In the story, when Keith, the young hotel guest, leaves his room, Ralph S. Mouse scurries out from his piney knot, runs up a telephone wire, and jumps on the toy motorcycle that Keith has left behind. Ralph’s joyride ends when he and the motorcycle land in a trash can! Cleary created such a wonderful word picture of this escapade that I still laugh every time I read it.

Mouse and the Motorcycle Cover

So how did she come up with the idea for this book? Here’s the backstory. On one occasion, Cleary and her young son and daughter accompanied her husband on a business trip to England. During the trip, her son became ill and Mr. Cleary went shopping for something to take the boy’s mind off his ailment. A Hot Wheels motorcycle was the perfect answer. Needless to say, the toy was a hit, and her son had endless fun running it up and down the ridged lines on his bedspread: perfect roads for a small motorcycle.

Sometime later, when back at home, Ms. Cleary was working in her garden. She was sitting on the ground in front of a bench planting flowers when she heard scrambling behind her, followed by a loud noise. She looked up to where a large metal can sat at the end of the bench. Upon investigation, Cleary discovered that a mouse had run down the bench behind her, and instead of hopping to the ground, fell into the trash can. Add those two episodes together and voila! You have the ingredients for a delightful and enduring children’s story—at least at the hands of Beverly Cleary.

I told this account many times to groups of kids in my libraries and they reacted as I did: completely enthralled! Thank you, Beverly Cleary, for providing such wonderful stories for so many generations.

In addition to selecting children and young adult materials for library collections, Suzy Hawley spends her days interfering in her children’s lives as much as possible, wheedling her husband into cooking dinner just one more time, and walking on the beach. Click here for more.

What Was Your Most Rewarding Experience as a Librarian?

As librarians, we all know on a base level that we’re making a difference, that our work is important. But too often, we lose sight of the key moments that fill us with joy, each true connection quickly overshadowed by the next project on our list.

Our librarians are excited to share the personal memories they turn to for that extra boost of inspiration.


Julie O’Connor: “Cutting the Ribbon

It’s difficult to pinpoint the most rewarding experience I’ve had as a librarian since my job is to help libraries with their collection development needs on a daily basis. It’s gratifying to help solve collection development conundrums, whether they be large or small. But if pressed, I think back to one of my first experiences as a project librarian. It was 2005 and Camden County, New Jersey, received funding to build a much-needed library. Their excitement was contagious because the residents and leaders had waited so long for this building. I know everyone is over the moon when a new library opens or is renovated, but experiencing that for the first time was something that will always stay with me.

Fern Hallman: “Seeing is Believing

I was doing an ongoing vendor selection project and the librarians in that system were not thrilled that I was selecting their books. The library administrators who had decided to hire Brodart to do it that way held a meeting where the local library staff could ask me questions about my process. One of the librarians said she decided to put all of my recent selections on a book cart to really take a hard look at them and discovered that they were all checked out.

Scott Piepenburg: “Blazing a Trail

My most rewarding experience as a librarian was when I was put in charge of the district automation program for Dallas Independent School District, then the eighth largest school district in the nation. We took 225 schools from only five with any type of automation to full automation in 18 months. This included purchasing and installing computers, creating a district-wide network (none existed at the time), and undertaking a complete retrospective conversion of the shelf lists.

At the time, it was the most extensive automation project in the nation and resulted in the largest school automation project in the United States; we did this while also creating and implementing centralized receiving and cataloging, doing almost 5,000 titles per week. Having no model to follow, as the system administrator, I was quite excited with the project, and pleased how well it turned out.

Stephanie Campbell: “The Stay-Behind

When I was just starting out as a librarian, I worked in older adult outreach services and was charged with creating engaging programs for residents at nursing homes and assisted living apartments. The divergent mental and physical health issues found in institutional settings, coupled with different backgrounds and experiences, make these seniors a particularly challenging group to entertain. Playful activities such as bingo, crafts, and sing-alongs were the most prevalent among the in-house recreational offerings at that time.

I took a more educational approach, with book talks and brief documentaries on particular topics to encourage conversation. Residents often dozed off during my programs. Others left the room when they got bored. Some stayed just to be polite, then thanked me, and bolted out the door the minute it was over. I performed these programs monthly at multiple facilities and it was wonderful when the topic and the audience were a good match. But even if I could reach just one person, it made it all worthwhile.

I remember one female resident in particular who attended every program I did at that nursing home. One day, as she lingered after the presentation, she told me how much she valued my visits and the material I chose to present, because it made her feel like an adult again, not treated as a child. It was both heartbreaking and gratifying to hear that. I ended up personally delivering books to her outside of work for a while. The power of human connection really hit me, and I began to realize how much I could make a difference in someone’s life.

Suzanne Hawley: “Nothing Beats a ‘Black Tie’ Auction with a Vanna White Lookalike

In order to get my fifth-graders to read more and write about what they read, I decided to hold a dress-up auction near the end of the school year. The kids read like crazy and wrote about what they’d read. The biggest hurdle for me was to read all the letters…there were at least 90 students writing letters most years! I gave them points, which would be used as dollars to bid with. On the day of the “black tie” auction, we gave each student a paper black bow tie with the number of dollars they had earned. We had an auctioneer and a Vanna White lookalike. Everyone—teachers, students, parents, administrators—were dressed to the nines. I used a book called “Celebrity Addresses” and sent letters to everyone in there I thought the kids would like an autograph or trinket from. It was exciting to watch the items roll in. We received, among other things, an autographed picture from Michael Jordan, a pound (!) of Wrigley bubblegum, an FBI cap, many gift certificates, tapes from popular singers, many coupons for restaurants, and so much more.

Parents manned tables where the kids would go with their ties when they won an item. They’d receive their winnings and the parent would subtract the amount it cost from their balance. I held these auctions in three schools for 20 years. Once a community realized how much fun it was, they began contributing items. We even got bicycles and TVs. Fifth grade was the highest grade in all these schools. Teachers from other grades were invited to bring their classes in to watch for half an hour and in the last schools we could stream it on the TV. The end result was a huge increase enthusiasm for reading in every grade. The kids couldn’t wait to get to fifth grade so they could participate in the auction.

Kat Kan: “A Zoom Surprise and a Virtual Hug

There have been so many over the several decades that I’ve worked as a librarian. Here is one of the most recent.

A couple of weeks before this writing, as we were leaving our church after the service, I heard someone shouting, “Mrs. Kan! Mrs. Kan!” I turned, and a tall boy came running down the path from the building. He was one of my former students when I was a school librarian. I hadn’t seen him since May 2019. He was one of the quiet ones, always drawing, borrowing books, not saying much. I always looked out for him, to make sure he was feeling comfortable and that he was always welcome in the library. That Sunday he told me how much he missed me, and the library. Then he proudly told me, “I can drive now!”

He has a younger brother, who was not the best student, but did enjoy coming to the school library and always borrowed books to read for fun. This past Sunday, I spoke to their mother; she’s been attending services at our church for about a month now. She told me that her younger son has connected with some of his classmates and former classmates, and they have their own Zoom book club! She told me “It’s all because of you. You helped them to love reading.” She’s clearly proud of her sons, but gave me credit for them becoming readers. I nearly cried.

I work in a public library now, and my department answers our county’s Citizen Information Line to help people with questions about getting tested for COVID-19, registering for vaccinations, and so on. Here, people must register and make appointments for the free COVID-19 tests at the county’s contracted clinic; the website is clunky and rather difficult for most people to navigate. There is no direct way to contact the clinic or the company that designed the website, so we get those calls. Sometimes callers reach us after trying for hours to find information. When I answer the line, I try to be as helpful and comforting as I can be.

Today, I helped a woman who called our line three times (I helped her twice). I stayed on the line with her as she negotiated the website and finally succeeded in setting up appointments for herself and her husband. At the end of the third call, she said, “I don’t know your name, but if I could, I’d give you the biggest hug! You people (meaning my department) are the only ones giving us good information and help! Thank you, we appreciate you so much!” So, helping connect people to books, and helping people get the information they need to help themselves in this pandemic are two aspects of being a librarian. In both cases, just knowing I helped in any small way makes me feel as though I’m doing my part to help the world be a better place.

Gwen Vanderhage: “Cultural Exchange

One of my most rewarding experiences as a public librarian was helping a population of Eritrean refugees who frequented my branch. The children were voracious readers and consumers of American pop culture. It was fun to help them find books and videos — they always had very specific opinions about what icons they were searching for and authors they were reading, but not always the ones we had on the shelf that day. The parents wanted help navigating and printing forms from government websites and getting matched up with computer tutors. They helped us keep our foreign film collection up to date. These families truly emulated why the library is a hub in every community and we were happy to get to know them each evening.


Everyone needs encouragement. Hopefully our librarians have helped you feel better about your own work on the frontlines. If we’ve inspired you in any way, we encourage you to share your story.

What’s one of your most-affirming experiences as a librarian? Tell us all about it in the comments below.

Origami How-To: 3 Videos to Get Started

By Kat Kan, MLS

Many people are going stir-crazy these days, so I thought now was a good time to share a few of my origami videos. Feel free to share these tutorials far and wide—and don’t forget to try some origami, yourself!

I have been folding origami since I was like eight years old. I started with origami paper, and when we moved back from Japan to the United States, I actually started using notebook paper from school. You can easily adapt notebook paper, wrapping paper, and others to make origami paper squares, even if you don’t have any at home.

No scissors? No problem! Just fold a piece of paper back and forth along the same edge until the paper weakens. Then, carefully tear in a straight line (It’s easier than it sounds!).

In the first video, I’ll show you how to build three things out of the same piece of paper: a house, a piano, and a fox. Let’s get started.


The traditional paper crane is called the orizuru. This was the very first thing I ever folded. I’m amazed that I did it! But I loved it so much that, of all the different origami that my grandmother taught me, this is still my favorite one. We’ll also be making a flapping bird toy.

In Japan, in the Shinto religion, each time you fold a paper crane, you’re praying. The idea is that if you can succeed in folding 1,000 cranes, your prayer will come true. I also share the true story of a little girl named Sadako Sasaki and the legacy she inspired. Do you have your paper ready?


“Trash Origami” is a really fun book with a lot of different kinds of ideas. We’re going to look at how to make two things from this book: a Jumping Frog and the Crown & Towers Game. That way once you’ve made your frog and your crowns, you can play a fun game with them.


Videos originally posted by Northwest Regional Library System, Florida.

If you’re looking for a graphic novel guru, you’re looking for Kat Kan. Kat looks like the stereotypical librarian with glasses and a bun, until you see the hair sticks and notice her earrings may be tiny books, TARDISes from Doctor Who, or LEGO Batgirls. Click here for more.

Beloved Comics Characters: Looking Back at 60 Years of Reading Comics

By Kat Kan, MLS

Recently, a friend on Facebook challenged me to post images of 10 comics characters that had an impact on me. Since I started reading comics with newspaper comic strips when I was in Kindergarten, I realized that I have been reading comics, in one form or another, for 60 years. I used that Facebook challenge to think back over the decades.

I remember watching lots of cartoons on television when I was between four and five years old: mostly Popeye, Mighty Mouse, Yogi Bear, and all the various Hanna-Barbera cartoons that were on back then. We had just moved to San Francisco from Hawaii in 1959. The newspaper’s comics page had strips like Peanuts, Blondie, Little Orphan Annie, and Steve Canyon, but I paid more attention to the humorous strips. I thought I was pretty grown up while “reading” the newspaper every day, although I always went straight to the “funnies.”

PopeyePopeye was one of my favorite cartoons. I could sing along with his “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man” theme song, and I decided to eat lots of spinach in the hope I could grow to be as strong as he was (as I’m sure a lot of other kids did, too). Bugs Bunny was another favorite character, and my mother could get us kids to eat whole carrots as a treat. She let us strut around the house saying “What’s up, Doc?” while eating carrots like they were candy. Hmm, my Japanese mother was pretty smart, using cartoon characters to “trick” us into eating healthy…

When my Air Force Sergeant dad was transferred to Japan in late summer 1961, I was ready to start first grade. He and my mother started taking us kids with them to the Base Exchange (BX) every Saturday—think of it as WalMart or Target for military families. The BX had a magazine rack, and the bottom rack was filled with “funny books,” otherwise known as comic books. Until then I really had no idea that such things existed. My parents allowed us to choose one comic book each week (they had to approve our choice), which we three kids had to share. As the oldest, and the one who was actually reading, I tended to choose the comics. Over the course of every week, I’d read and reread the books until they fell apart.

Little LuluSome of my early favorites include Little Lulu, Nancy and Sluggo, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Baby Huey, Dennis the Menace (yes, there were comic books, not just the newspaper comic strips), and Richie Rich. Of these titles, my absolute favorite is Little Lulu. She was such a sassy girl, easily able to handle all the boys, especially Tubby. I loved that she wore dresses, but that it didn’t stop her from doing all kinds of fun, physical things. She also believed that she and other girls were just as good as boys, and she acted on that. Decades later, Dark Horse Comics published collections of John Stanley’s Little Lulu comics, and my younger son, then about eight years old, would sit in a chair in my study and read them, giggling most of the time. One day he looked up and told me, “This comic is for girls.” I asked him, “You’re reading the book, do you like it?” “Yeah.” “So, if you like the comic, that means it’s not only for girls, right?” He thought for a moment, then said, “Yes!” And now, present day, Drawn & Quarterly is doing its own reprinting of Little Lulu comics. That girl has had lasting power… and I love it!

When I was in third grade, we Air Force families were moved from the Washington Heights housing in central Tokyo (near Ueno Park) out to newly built housing (called Kanto Mura) nearly an hour away from the city. The housing was set up in quadrangles of four-unit buildings. We had new neighbors, and all of us kids played with each other and went to each other’s homes all the time. The moms all helped each other keep track of us. Our house became the place where a bunch of the boys would come with their stacks of comics; I was the only girl in the group. We’d sit on the living room floor in kind of a circle, put all the comics in the middle, and just read one comic book after another. My parents still only let me buy the funny comics, but some of the boys brought really cool superhero comics. That was my introduction to Batman, The Phantom, Superman, and The Spirit. I really liked those heroes. I loved the adventures, and they just seemed to go better with the books I was reading: mythology, adventures, and mysteries.

Green LanternIn 1964 we moved back to the U.S., and within a few months my parents decided to buy a house. It was just a couple of blocks from a drugstore that had a comic book rack. By this time, I was getting a weekly allowance of a whopping 25 cents! I used part of that allowance once a month or so to buy comics. But now, with my own money, I was buying superhero and adventure comics. I really loved The Green Lantern then; Hal Jordan was my favorite superhero. I think I liked that he was pretty much a regular guy who got his powers from his ring, which in turn was powered by the lantern. It seemed to be more straight science fiction, which I was reading in books.

I also bought Tarzan comics (published by Gold Key). I was already reading the novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, borrowed from my local public library. Back then, starting at age 10, I didn’t have to have a parent with me to go to the library and check out books. I read a lot, close to a book a day. When my mother ordered me to go outside, I’d often take a book or some comics and sit outside on the front steps from the sidewalk up to our lawn and read, until she’d order me to either pull weeds or go ride my bike.

By 1967 I would also pick up random comics that tied in to shows I watched on television: The Green Hornet, Star Trek, The Rat Patrol…I reread those comics a lot. I would also borrow comics from our neighbors. I remember reading a big stack of Metal Men comics and some Batman Family comics. I loved Batgirl on the Batman TV show, but the Batgirl in the comics wasn’t like Yvonne Craig’s portrayal, so I didn’t seek out Batman comics on the store racks. I had a nice little stack of comics that I kept reading. I also bought the occasional issue of “Mad,” especially if the issue included a parody of a TV show or movie I liked. In addition, I bought a number of mass market paperback collections of Peanuts comics, which I also read to pieces—literally.

My dad had been deployed to Vietnam the summer of 1967. When he returned home in 1968, he had orders to move across the country to Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia. As an enlisted man, he didn’t have a generous weight allowance for household goods to be shipped to his new assignment, so he ordered us kids to get rid of a lot of our stuff, especially books and comics. I snuck a few of them into one of my boxes, but I had to give up most of them.

For a couple of years, I just kept rereading those few comics I saved, especially Star Trek and Green Hornet, since I no longer had easy access to stores. We spent one year in Georgia, before my dad was reassigned to Hawaii. While we lived in Kailua that first year there, I found a stack of Classics Illustrated comics at a neighborhood garage sale and bought them. I read lots of classic literature already, but the comics were so much fun! When we finally got base housing at Hickam Air Force Base, where my dad was assigned, I started high school and met a girl who loved science fiction and comics as much as I did. Ruth introduced me to Marvel Comics. In the mid-1960s I had watched the Spider-Man and Fantastic Four cartoons on TV, but I was a DC superhero comics fan. I spent a lot of time at Ruth’s house, where we would read through her X-Men comics.

Fast-forward to the mid-1970s. I was attending University of Hawaii and living at home, while working part-time at the local WaldenBooks. The store carried trade paperback collections of Heavy Metal comics translated from the French: I remember “Lone Sloan: Delirius.” And Simon & Schuster published trade paperback collections of Marvel Comics in “Origins of Marvel Comics,” “Bring On the Bad Guys,” “The Superhero Women,” and others. I found the trade paperback of “God Loves, Man Kills”—a classic X-Men story—and lots more. I went on a buying and reading spree. “Elfquest” by Wendy and Richard Pini came out in trade paperbacks in the late 1970s, along with comic book adaptations of Robert Asprin’s “Myth Adventures” fantasy novels, and I bought and read all of those.

MaiI focused my buying and reading on the trade collections of comics, because I bought them from bookstores. By this time, most supermarkets and drugstores carried very little in the way of magazines or comics. They had done away with the spinner racks, and just displayed a few magazines and maybe some Archie comics digests at the checkout counters. WaldenBooks didn’t carry them, but Honolulu Bookstore carried English translations of Japanese comics, starting in the mid-1980s. When we lived in Japan, I used to “read” the comics in my mother’s Japanese magazines, so when I saw some manga, I picked them up. One of my earliest purchases was “Mai, the Psychic Girl” by Kazuya Koda and Ryoichi Ikegami.

Ronin RabbitI also finally ventured into a couple of specialty comics shops. From that time, I started buying comics issues of some Marvel and DC series, then branched out to Eclipse Comics, Valiant, and several other publishers. Fantagraphics had been publishing “Usagi Yojimbo” comics, and I bought the trade paperback collections. I have kept up with “Usagi Yojimbo” through several decades now; Stan Sakai combines Japanese history, folklore, and cultural traditions to tell compelling stories featuring his ronin rabbit. As a mixed Japanese-White person (in Hawaii we’re called Hapa), I really appreciate seeing my Japanese culture represented in comics. I also bought the original black and white “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” trades.

These days, I enjoy manga for the time the creators take to tell the stories, and for telling stories in many different genres—from crime drama to fantasy, to wacky humor, to serious science fiction, to historical fiction, to stories focusing on food, to creepy horror. I like the black and white art, which helps me read horror. I don’t like full-color gore that so many American horror comics depict. I also get a kick out of the fact that several publishers are reprinting or publishing new comics featuring some of the comics characters I read when I was young. And I love seeing prose writers getting into comics: people like Joe Hill, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, and others. I jumped up and down in my chair and screamed with joy at my computer screen when I saw that Jerry Craft’s graphic novel “The New Kid” had won the 2020 Newbery Award.

I read comics for all different age levels now, including mainstream superhero and independent comics, in almost every genre. I have supported Kickstarter and Patreon projects for a lot of new comics creators. I’m now 65 years old, and I love comics even more than I did at five. I don’t plan to stop reading comics until I can’t read any more at all. I love the incredible diversity of creators, styles, and genres that people can read. They exist in print and online. Some are available for free. Many libraries carry at least a few graphic novels that people can borrow. And I really love that my work at Brodart focuses on helping librarians find good graphic novels for their collections.

I never would have believed, even when I was in library school, that I could use my love for comics in my job. It’s been an amazing journey, and I’ll continue on it as long as I can.

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Katharine

If you’re looking for a graphic novel guru, you’re looking for Kat Kan. Kat looks like the stereotypical librarian with glasses and a bun, until you see the hair sticks and notice her earrings may be tiny books, TARDISes from Doctor Who, or LEGO Batgirls. Click here for more.