One day in the late 1930’s a boy came up to his librarian and she suggested the he read about King Arthur. The boy replied, “Aw, I don’t want to read about kings. I want to read about human beings.” The librarian, Miss Beverly Bunn, knew what the boy meant. As a child she had felt the same way – she was sick of reading “wealthy English children who had nannies and pony carts or poor children whose problems were solved by a long-lost relative turning up in the last chapter. Beverly wanted to read stories about the sort of children she knew.”
This was the beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary. I did not google this information. I researched her in our University Library. I will sound old, perhaps, but consider me lucky. I was born before google. I was born when you had to go across campus, in the winter, (oh dear, this is almost sounding like one of those I walked a mile to school every day stories, but stay with me), look for your book titles in the card catalog, in other books. Find the aisle. Run your fingers across the shelves. Grab your book with delight, grateful that it wasn’t already checked out. Do this over and over. Then go to a silent table and read. Yes, read. You had to read complete books, not just a blurb spit out by a computer. Sometimes you would read an entire book, and realize it just led you to another book. But what a glorious gift. The smell of the leather, and slight must of the pages. The silence all around. You could feel the power of the words.
And so I researched Beverly Cleary. The assignment was to write about an author who had a great influence on you as a child. And she did. Every Wednesday, at Washington Elementary, the year after I had finished the Cowboy Sam series, and before I started the Little House on the Prairie books, I read Beverly Cleary. They lived on Klickitat Street, Henry Huggins, Beezus,Ramona (the pest), Henry’s dog Ribsy, the neighbor Scooter. You could say they lived in a world where nothing was special, but in that, I thought everything was special. The Huggins home was as real as the Norton home to me. As real as my VanDyke Road. It was a neighborhood I visited every week.
Perhaps the best gift that an author can give you is a glimpse of yourself. When you see a reflection of yourself, you see possibility. You see hope. And you begin to see yourself, just a little bit more.
On my returned assignment, the professor wrote, “Perhaps you should think of doing some professional writing yourself!” An exclamation point. For me! I had been punctuated.
No one should be denied a chance to live on Klickitat Street, or VanDyke Road. So I write.