Noticing Magic Everywhere

Kate Comings' journal


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Walking with Ramona

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When I was in fifth grade, my teacher, Mr. Glod, brought me a book called Otis Spofford. “I think you’ll enjoy this,” he said. I mostly read books about horses, especially Marguerite Henry’s books. I doubted I’d enjoy this one, but Mr. Glod turned out to be right. I loved Otis Spofford. The book was about a mischievous boy and his hilarious mishaps. It was by Beverly Cleary. She hadn’t written many books yet, but I read everything she had. The books were set in a Northeast Portland neighborhood near Grant Park. I loved reading about Henry Huggins and his dog, Beezus and Ramona Quimby, and Ellen Tebbits. Ramona ended up becoming the main character in the books set in that neighborhood, but when I was reading them, she didn’t have any of her own books yet. I never forgot the kids on Klickitat Street, and years later, when I moved to Portland, I would walk along Klickitat Street and try to figure out where they would have lived.

This last Christmas, I received a wonderful little book, Walking with Ramona: Exploring Beverly Cleary’s Portland, by Laura O. Foster.

There’s a wealth of Portland history in that book, as well as a walking tour and map showing where various events in the books took place. Beverly Cleary, then Beverly Bunn, lived in that neighborhood in the 1920s and went to the elementary school on 33rd and Hancock, which has since been named after her. She based her stories on her own childhood. I took the tour one frigid, windy afternoon. Then, for the first time, I read the Ramona books. These books are amazing. Beverly Cleary remembers exactly what it was like to be an elementary school child, and her vivid stories brought back my own vaguely remembered school days.

When the Bunns left their farm in Yamhill to move to Portland, their first house was in the Sullivan’s Gulch area. That house is no longer standing.

Their next house was in my own neighborhood, on NE 77th Avenue. Beverly’s parents didn’t like the icy Columbia Gorge winds that we get here, so they moved near Grant Park after one year.

img_3052 The NE 77th Avenue house

I plan to do the walking tour again now that I have read the Ramona books. For now, I located the two houses in this neighborhood where the Bunn family lived. The first is on Hancock Street, the “Klickitat” street in the books. She changed the name because she liked the name “Klickitat.”

img_3048 The NE Hancock house

The Bunns moved to this house on NE 37th Avenue when Beverly was in 7th grade.

img_3050 The NE 37th Avenue house

Beverly Cleary also wrote two memoirs, A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet. The second book ends when she wrote her first book, Henry Huggins. She is now 100 years old!


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Saw this book on display in the library and grabbed it.

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The jacket blurb says, “…the first book we fall in love with shapes us every bit as much as the first person we fell in love with.” For Laura Miller, it was the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. That got me thinking–what books did I most love as a child? For sure, not Narnia. The first books I checked out of the library over and over and over again were Ruth Stiles Gannett’s Elmer Elevator stories: My Father’s Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon, and The Dragons of Blueland. They were published between 1948 and 1951 and are still in print.

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I fell in love with Boris, the blue-and-yellow striped dragon. He was nothing like a conventional dragon; he looked like a cuddly stuffed animal. Elmer, the 9-year-old hero, was amazingly independent and responsible. The lists of supplies he packed for his rescue missions were unexpected and hilarious–pink lollipops, chewing gum, magnifying glasses (to better see fleas) and hair ribbons.

I also loved horse stories like Black Beauty and Marguerite Henry’s King of the Wind. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden started a lifelong love of gardening and of mysterious doorways.

I didn’t read the Narnia books until I was older. C.S. Lewis has an engaging, almost conversational writing style. He talks directly to the reader and draws you right in… then he bludgeons you over the head with his heavy-handed religious imagery and his proselytizing agenda. Laura Miller’s extremely well-researched book explores Lewis’s life and his friendship with J.R.R.Tolkien.  It brought home to me everything I didn’t like about university. I have serious problems with elitist academics and their continuous bickering, criticizing each other about things that have no connection to the way we live our lives and how we treat other people. What really got me while reading this book, besides the academic rivalry and stubborn old farts bickering back and forth, is the way different books and poetry resonate with different people. What hits one person on a deep level (Lord of the Rings for me) will strike someone else as shallow and just plain bad. Laura Miller and I don’t have the same taste in literature, but this book of hers was a fascinating read that I couldn’t put down.