Beverly Cleary, the Author of the Beloved Ramona Quimby Books, Dies at 104

Author Beverly Cleary has died. She was 104.

The beloved Ramona Quimby author died on Thursday in Carmel, California, where she had lived since the 1960s, according to a statement from HarperCollins.

"We are saddened by the passing of Beverly Cleary, one of the most beloved children's authors of all time. Looking back, she'd often say, 'I've had a lucky life,' and generations of children count themselves lucky too—lucky to have the very real characters Beverly Cleary created, including Henry Huggins, Ramona and Beezus Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse, as true friends who helped shape their growing-up years," Suzanne Murphy, president and publisher of HarperCollins Children's Books, said in a statement.

Asked for her secret to longevity once, Cleary, who was born Beverly Atlee Bunn, previously told ABC News, "I didn't do it on purpose!" even adding that she didn't think she looked a day over 80.

Born in McMinnville, Oregon, in April 1916, her family moved to a small town that didn't have a library. Cleary, who nearly failed first grade, struggled with reading and didn't embrace books until they moved to Portland, Oregon, according to her website.

During the Depression, she attended Chaffey Junior College in Ontario, California, before attending the University of California, Berkeley, where she met her sweetheart Clarence Cleary.

The two married in 1940, and had two children, twins Malcolm and Marianne, who inspired her book, Mitch and Amy. Beverly and Clarence were together until his death in 2004.

In her biography page, Cleary, who went on to become a children's librarian, writes that she eventually realized she wanted to write stories that she "longed to read but was unable to find on the library shelves, funny stories about her neighborhood and the sort of children she knew."

Cleary published her first book, Henry Huggins, in 1950 after realizing that boys needed more books with characters they identified with. "In those days it was very hard to find books for little boys. There were animal stories, of course, but there weren't any books about what these boys called 'kids like us,' " she told PEOPLE in 1988.

Cleary also reflected on her childhood on her 100th birthday in 2016, telling The Washington Post that she "thought like Ramona," the feisty character Ramona Quimby, whom she created for Beezus and Ramona in 1955. "But I was a very well-behaved little girl," Cleary said.

Actresses Selena Gomez and Joey King even went on to play her two most famous characters in the 2010 movie Beezus and Ramona.

Cleary's last book, Ramona's World, was published in 1999, but her books continue to sell worldwide and have been translated into 14 languages, according to her website.

And since 2006, her birthday, April 12, has been celebrated as a holiday called National D.E.A.R. Day (Drop Everything and Read) in honor of her accomplishments as a children's author.

In 2010, Cleary spoke with PEOPLE and explained that all but one of her 32 books were written in longhand and she never had a single rejected manuscript. Of her dozens of famous characters, Cleary most identifies with well-mannered Ellen Tebbits.

"But inside, I had Ramona-like thoughts," she said.

Among her many accolades, Cleary won a National Book Award, a Newbery Medal, a National Medal of Art from the National Endowment of the Arts and in 2000, the Library of Congress gave her a Living Legend Award.

She was predeceased by her husband, Clarence Cleary, and is survived by their two children, Malcolm and Marianne, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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