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Rachael Walker

In this special series, children's literacy consultant Rachael Walker and many of the authors, parents, and educators she’s met and worked with talk about how books have changed their lives, how to bring books to life for young readers, and how to enrich kids’ lives with good books. (Also visit Rachael at her blog, Belle of the Book.)

Bringing Ramona to Life

April 7, 2016

It was my mom who introduced me to Beezus and Ramona. But the introduction was a bit unusual. We’re not talking about a cozy bedtime story or even a read aloud on one of our family’s long car trips. I had Ramona live in my living room.

Janet Worthington

Mom was, at the time, English Resource Coordinator for the Piedmont Schools Project. I didn’t know what that meant other than she brought home a lot of books that I got to read, a costume and makeup case that I got into whenever I could, and a roll of laminating film that I helped her iron onto file folders that were turned into reading centers. What her job really meant though was she got to help teachers bring literature to life.

Her favorite way to do this was (and still is) to become the book character and tell that character’s stories. After watching my mom hop around the living room practicing her Ramona, explaining how her eyes were brown and white, talking about a doll named Bendix and a sister called Beezus, I enthusiastically dove into Beezus and Ramona.

Beverly Cleary’s writing totally lived up to my mother’s performance. I read and re-read Beezus and Ramona, then Henry Huggins, Ellen Tibbits, Ramona the Pest, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle. Later I discovered Fifteen and The Luckiest Girl.

But my favorite of all of Beverly Cleary’s writings are her memoirs, A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet. I read these books on the subway to and from my job at Reading Is Fundamental. Beverly Cleary was the best commuter companion ever — she told me all her secrets, made me laugh, and made me think about how to organize my own path into adulthood.

When I got to travel to Portland years later, I was eager to visit her old stomping grounds. So I did what any sensible person does who needs to find information about a famous librarian. I went to the library.

At the Hollywood Library in Cleary’s old northeast Portland neighborhood, you can find Beverly Cleary in more than just books. There’s a map of Ramona’s neighborhood built into the wall of the library. And you can pick up your own copy of Walking with Ramona: Beverly Cleary Map & Directions. Which is what I did and then headed down to Hancock Street to follow in the footsteps of both Beverly Cleary and her characters.

Hollywood Library

The walking map provided by the Hollywood Library has great directions, but not a lot of detail on just what I was looking at as it related to Cleary’s characters. But it was a beautiful day to wander and imagine young Beverly Bunn heading home from the Hollywood Library. And to see the other spots that lodged in her imagination and ended up in her books, like the Hollywood Theater, which became the Laurelwood for Otis Spofford and friends to watch movies. Standing on the corner outside the Beverly Cleary School, Fernwood Campus, I could almost see Henry Huggins across the street pulling Ramona out of the mud.

Henry and Ramona are also at Grant Park. This is where Henry hunted for night crawlers. He’s there night and day now in the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden, along with Ribsy and Ramona, who’s still getting use out of those fabulous boots.

Ramona statue at Grant Park

Walking through Grant Park, you end up at the Beverly Cleary School, Hollywood Campus. The school has a terrific mosaic mural inside and a very welcoming staff, who were pleased to share that their students, like Ramona, did “Drop Everything and Read.” Also shared was another map. This one of “Henry Huggins Neighborhood,” which identifies many more landmarks familiar to readers of Cleary’s Henry and Ramona series.

Map of Henry Huggins' Neighborhood

Staff at the Cleary School also provided directions to Klickitat Street. After having a look at another of the homes the Bunn family lived in, it was time to head up the hill.

Klickitat Street sign

Standing on Klickitat Street, I found myself thinking about that thing adults often do — romanticizing childhood. But Ramona and my mother taught me better. Things can be tough no matter what age you are. But you can always put on a pair of rabbit ears and hop around.

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"The man who does not read good books is no better than the man who can't." — Mark Twain