Tuesday, September 25, 2007

In the Land of Beverly Cleary

I am moving to Oregon. I love the trees, I love the river, the bridges, the city, the neighborhoods, the bookstores, the valley, the people... it's my kind of place.

Here is A Children's Place. It's where we're headed on Monday morning. I nearly give Dependable Cousin Marcia a heart attack as we ride through a bungalowed neighborhood on the way to A Children's Place Books... "Stop!" I shrieked. "Stopppppppp!"

I leap out of the car (yes, I do), and run to the street sign and snap this picture. Which house? I wonder. In which house did Beverly Cleary set her stories? At dinner the night before Eric Kimmel had offered to take me to the park so I could pay homage to Ramona, my hero, but I knew time was too tight for a pilgrimage today.

Marcia, in the meantime, stares at me as if I've lost my mind. "What are you doing?"

"Ramona Quimby!" I say, waving my arms wildly. "Beverly Cleary!" I patterned Ruby Lavender after Ramona -- I wanted to create a timeless story of family and community. I read the Ramona books to death, studied them, took them apart, admired them so -- still do.

A Children's Place smells like the school libraries of my childhood -- full of good books and possibilities, cozy, warm, and inviting. I am wrapped in nostalgia and children, as the fourth and fifth graders from St. Ignacious School and Archibishop Howard School arrive and we set-to for almost an hour of gab, sharing stories.

And here's how I introduce THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS. I talk about trying to connect the things I loved: baseball, Sandy Koufax, Walt Whitman, old people, dogs, dance, tutus, Eudora Welty, secret notes, mysteries, friendship, the Fourth of July, and an old town.

Then I read from the baseball rules, I read a bit of Phoebe Tolbert's column about the pageant, and then, when I've got the stage set, a good half-hour into the program (I've talked about RUBY and LITTLE BIRD, too), I read the first chapter of ALL-STARS. I love those eyes on me. I love the stillness in the room. "Mr. Norwood Rhinehart Beauregard Boyd, age 88, philanthropist, philosopher, and maker of mystery, died on a June morning in Mable, Mississippi at home in his bed."
Then, when we're all laughing at Finesse and her overly-dramatic moves to entice the baseball team to be in her pageant, I read rule number one of "How to Hit the Ball" -- "Remove all tiaras."

In the picture below, you can see Cousin Marcia knitting -- she's in the red. I hadn't seen Marcia Hindman in 30 years. She moved from Mississippi to Portland and began painting. I moved from Mississippi to Maryland and began writing. And now our paths cross again -- we have picked up right where we left off... as if there had been no years between us. Stories, stories, stories. We've talked each other's ears off. And we share something else in common, it must be a family trait: I don't leave anything behind on this day, but Marcia leaves her knitting at A Children's Place. Hahahaha. Oops.

I hope these pictures give you a sense of A Children's Place. Look at how the paintings on the walls bring the outdoors in and surround you with a sense of place. Portland has a definite sense of place that I resonate to, as does A Children's Place. Lynn Kelley started A Children's Place 32 years ago in Portland. "She sewed good seeds," says Gina Greenlaw, "and Pam took over four years ago. She's wonderful." She is.

Here are Pam Erlandson (left) and Gina Greenlaw. Kira was absent today; she's on vacation with her family in Bellingham, where I appeared at Village Books in Saturday -- and so did Kira! "I wanted to see you," she said. I am so touched. Val had to scoot out before I could get her photo, but know that the staff at A Children's Place is dedicated and knowledgeable and sold me good books: CLEMENTINE by Sarah Pennypacker (fabulous artwork by Marla Frazee) and THE SISTERS GRIMM, Book One, The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley and Peter Ferguson for my 7-year-old, VAMPIRATES, Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper for the 12-year-old, and DOG by Matthew Van Fleet for the toddler. Just right.

Yes, I want to move to Portland and hang out near Klickitat Street and visit A Children's Place every day. We sold out of ALL-STARS, I signed the backlist, and then tootled with Dependable Cousin Marcia to Powell's, where I signed stock, then headed for the airport. Next stop will be southern California.

I've been a true-blue Powell's web-customer for years. It was a delight to walk into the store I'm doing business with and to see all those books. "Our stock is 70-percent used books," said Chris Faatz as he led me to the Deborah Wiles shelf. Here are Chris and Karen Schnieder, who works in children's.

Cousin Marcia is quite an artist. We stopped at her studio and at the School of Nursing to see some of her paintings before we scooted to the airport. Marcia's work is stunning. And now she knows Ramona Quimby, another stunning work of art.

I'm south of Los Angeles today. Whale of a Tale at 9am, then a school visit, a stock signing at First Page, and then a library event at the Santa Fe Springs library at 7pm -- do come if you're in the area. We're heading into World Series days and I'm gonna talk about baseball and that symphony true.