When I was a kid, I anxiously awaited summer – not just for the break from school – but for the chance to read whatever I wanted to my heart’s content. It was the decade before smart phones, DVRs and the distraction of technology. I feel so lucky that I was able to enjoy a childhood unobstructed by screens. TV was really the only technology that beckoned, and I can still hear the familiar chime of the “Reading Rainbow” theme song and LaVar Burton encouraging us to “take a look, it’s in a book…” as we ran off to the Oakland Library for our latest stash. There was a reading chart in the kids’ section where we monitored our progress with yellow star stickers; it was one of the few things that brought out my competitive side.
I guarded my books carefully and created my own personal library – to this day if I look through my childhood books that were saved, I find hand-made lending tickets inside dated for return in the mid-1980s.
About six months ago, I moved to Portland, Oregon, and found myself renting an apartment in the same neighborhood as the childhood home of one of my beloved childhood authors, Beverly Cleary. The local school is named after her and a sculpture garden in Grant park depicts her most famous characters. To get reacquainted with her stories, I took the old-fashioned route and got a library card to check-out my favorite Ramona books. Just stepping into my neighborhood branch brought back a multitude of memories. The kids running around, the “Summer Reading” posters and the stacks of cellophane-covered books made me anxious for one of those yellow star stickers.
Cleary’s Ramona books were pivotal stories of my youth. They depicted the typical west coast childhood of a mischievous girl and her sister. She dealt with school bullies, challenging teachers, sibling scuffles and the realities of moments like losing a pet. I always related to Ramona and feel quite honored now to live in the neighborhood of her literary spirit.
I drove past Beverly’s former home and visited the Sculpture Garden at Grant Park a few weeks ago. I’m glad to see such respect given to a woman enriched so many children with her characters and imagination. With all the distractions of technology, her’s is an important literary legacy to preserve.