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Beloved children's book author Beverly Cleary dies at 104

Cleary's best-known characters include Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins.
/ Source: TODAY

Beverly Cleary, the beloved children's book author, has died.

Cleary passed away Thursday in Carmel, California, according to her publisher, HarperCollins. She was 104 years old.

Cleary's first book, "Henry Huggins," was published in 1950 and was the first in a series of books about third grader Henry, his dog Ribsy and their neighborhood friends Beezus Quimby and her mischievous little sister Ramona.

Beverly Cleary
Beverly Cleary's work was beloved by generations of kids.

More than 40 books followed, including "Beezus and Ramona" (1955), “Ramona the Pest" (1968) and “Ramona and Her Mother" (1979), which earned a National Book Award in 1981.

A former children's librarian, Cleary modeled her characters after the boys and girls she knew as a youngster.

"I think children want to read about normal, everyday kids. That's what I wanted to read about when I was growing up," Cleary told NPR in 1999. "I wanted to read about the sort of boys and girls that I knew in my neighborhood and in my school. And in my childhood, many years ago, children's books seemed to be about English children, or pioneer children. And that wasn't what I wanted to read. And I think children like to find themselves in books."

Cleary's books showed her characters getting into ordinary kids' adventures — adjusting to a new paper route in Henry Huggins' case, or for Ramona, getting over the jitters of starting kindergarten. Her work inspired other popular authors, including Judy Blume.

In a 2016 interview with TODAY's Jenna Bush Hager, Cleary reflected on her career and on reaching the age of 100, joking, "Well, I didn't do it on purpose!"

She shared, "I remember a very earnest conversation my best friend and I had when we were, I guess, freshmen in high school, about how long we wanted to live. And we decided that 80 was the cutoff date."

When asked what she was looking forward to, she replied, "At my age? Well, I'll leave that up to you."

“We are saddened by the passing of Beverly Cleary, one of the most beloved children’s authors of all time," Suzanne Murphy, president and publisher, HarperCollins Children’s Books, shared in a statement.

"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," Murphy continued.

"We at HarperCollins also feel extremely lucky to have worked with Beverly Cleary and to have enjoyed her sparkling wit," she added. "Her timeless books are an affirmation of her everlasting connection to the pleasures, challenges, and triumphs that are part of every childhood.”