Get to know Little Bigfoot author Vicki Conrad! Her picture book biography Just Like Beverly celebrates the life of beloved author Beverly Cleary, who would have turned 105 on April 12th! In this interview, she shares why she was inspired to write this book, what she loves about Beverly Cleary (including her favorite books!), her journey to becoming a published author, why reading is so important, and more!
What inspired you to write this book?
Years ago, someone told me in passing that Beverly Cleary struggled with reading as a child and wanted to write books about kids like her; that was why she wrote her books. That stuck with me, and a few years later when I was brainstorming ideas for nonfiction children’s books, I began reading her autobiography and wrote Just Like Beverly.
Did you have a connection to Beverly Cleary’s books as a child?
She was my favorite author, and it truly was because Ramona’s life was a lot like mine. Ramona made mistakes, she worried, she tried hard to do her best. I ordered all of the Ramona series from the Scholastic Book Fair. I loved having all of those books lined up on my shelf, then I went on to read all of her other books. Socks and Dear Mr. Henshaw became favorites as I grew older.
What was your favorite discovery about Beverly Cleary as you did research?
I was inspired by her drive and bravery in pursuing her dreams. As a young adult, she was independent. Instead of marrying Clarence, her college boyfriend, right away, she went to Seattle on her own and got a library degree. She moved to Yakima and used her degree, and also worked as an army librarian. (I thought that was a very fun fact.) She never let her dream to write die. She eventually made it happen after years of dreaming.
Do you think Beverly Cleary’s books are still relevant to children today?
Absolutely. I think her character development, humor, and depth of emotion are still relatable. I would love to see children continue to read Henry Huggins, Ramona Quimby, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle for many years.
Was reading a large part of your life as a child?
Yes, I was a voracious reader. From my early elementary school years, I found true delight in books. I lived in a small mountain town, and books were one source of endless entertainment. The winters were long, and reading was an escape during blizzards and power losses.
Did Beverly’s life inspire you to keep going as a writer?
Yes. As a child, my dream was to live in a castle in England and write books. I don’t live in England, and now I know castles are cold and dark. However, as I wrote, rewrote, and got rejected, stuck, and discouraged, I thought about Beverly’s drive and knew I could tell a story. I wanted to tell her story.
Why did you highlight Beverly’s struggles in school as a young child?
I have taught young children for many years, and I have seen how school struggles can devastate children and parents. I wanted children and parents to feel little First Grade Beverly’s sadness and humiliation with academic struggles, so they can know they are not alone. I also wanted to show the hope—that every child can learn to read and if they find just one book that speaks to them, they can become lifelong learners and readers.
How does it feel to see the story in print?
I love the book’s illustrations. I always had a picture in my mind of what it would look like, and David’s work far exceeded what I could envision. I love seeing young Beverly on a farm and with the chickens and reading with her mother in their makeshift library. I recently took part in the Beverly Cleary walk in Portland, and her childhood home looks just like the illustrations David created. One of my favorite illustrations is Beverly carrying her typewriter home. It captures her determination.
What are your favorite books for children right now?
I love the creative nonfiction that is coming out. I admire Melissa Stewart; she writes wonderful and informative books about animals and nature. Jess Keating wrote Shark Lady about Eugenie Clark and Pink Is for Blobfish, both of which I enjoy. The new biography about Rachel Carson, Spring After Spring by Stephanie Roth Sisson, is lovely.
VICKI CONRAD is a teacher with a passion for literacy development and inspiring students to love reading just as much as she did as a child. Growing up, she was always found with a book in her hand, and she has stayed that way ever since. She has called Seattle her home for many years. She doesn’t mind the rain, as long as she has coffee, friends, and good books for company.
Just Like Beverly is her first book.