Friday, April 10, 2020

Book Review: My Own Two Feet by Beverly Cleary

My Own Two Feet is the second volume of beloved author Beverly Cleary's memoirs about her early life. This book begins when young Beverly Bunn leaves home for college, follows her through her college and library school days during the Great Depression, and concludes around the time of her elopement with her husband, Clarence Cleary. I'm posting this review today in honor of Beverly Cleary's 104th birthday coming up on Sunday. (Yes, she is still alive!)

As was the case with the first volume, A Girl from Yamhill, I don't really recommend this second memoir to the same audience that reads Cleary's fiction books. Though her novels for children have a sweetness and humor to them, the difficulties she faces in real life, particularly with her distant mother, are a bit more difficult to digest and require a more sophisticated reader. Still, for teens who are looking ahead to venturing out on their own, and who have read Cleary as children, this book is a valuable look at the challenges and excitement of being a young woman on the verge of adulthood. Some of what happens to Cleary is fascinating because it is so different from what young college students experience today, and some of it is surprisingly relatable because other aspects of young adulthood really don't change from one generation to the next.

For me personally, the best parts of this book were Cleary's reflections on her time in library school. Though my library school experience relied very heavily on technology that did not yet exist in Cleary's time,  many of her professional concerns were the same as mine. I also loved reading about the silly criticisms she received when she first started working in libraries: that she looked bored, didn't seem interested enough in children's librarianship, and leaned on things too much. It's funny to think about the things that mattered to employers then versus what they look for in librarians today.

My only disappointment with this book is that it doesn't get into Cleary's writing career or her life as a mother of twins. I would have loved to keep reading about how her career and life evolved over the following decades, but I also understand that, as a writer for children, she might have wanted to keep the focus on her younger years. Either way, I enjoyed both of these memoirs, and I'm glad there are at least a couple of Beverly Cleary books for my girls to read when they are teens. 

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