By the time “Beezus and Ramona” was published, Ms. Cleary had twins, Malcolm and Marianne, to provide her with fresh material. They survive her, along with three grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Her husband died in 2004.
Ms. Cleary tended to find both comedy and drama in the smaller incidents of life, but she did not shy away from weighty themes. In “Ramona and Her Father,” Ramona mounts a campaign to have her father quit smoking, a habit he abuses after losing his job. In “Dear Mr. Henshaw,” the lonely Leigh Botts, a sixth grader distraught by his parents’ divorce, begins writing to his favorite children’s-book author for advice and eventually finds solace in keeping a diary. That book won the Newbery Medal in 1984. A sequel, “Strider,” followed in 1991.
In 1965, Ms. Cleary introduced Ralph S. Mouse — the S. stands for “smart” — in “The Mouse and the Motorcycle,” primarily as a way to hook her son on reading. Prey to many of the worries of his human counterparts, the plucky Ralph copes with mouse problems as well as human relationships while tearing around on a mouse-scale motorcycle in the novels “Runaway Ralph” and “Ralph S. Mouse.”
Ms. Cleary also wrote a series of young-adult novels dealing with the problems of adolescent girls, including “Fifteen,” “The Luckiest Girl” and “Sister of the Bride.”
Her constant guide as a writer, Ms. Cleary once wrote in The Horn Book, was the girl she once was: “a rather odd, serious little girl, prone to colds, who sat in a child’s rocking chair with her feet over the hot air outlet of the furnace, reading for hours, seeking laughter in the pages of books while her mother warned her she would ruin her eyes.”
She continued, “That little girl, who has remained with me, prevents me from writing down to children, from poking fun at my characters, and from writing an adult reminiscence about childhood instead of a book to be enjoyed by children.”