Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Where Does Mike Mulligan Go to the Bathroom?

Klickitat Street
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
I just made a little pilgrimage to Klickitat Street this evening in honor of Beverly Cleary’s 90th birthday, which is today. I read all of Cleary’s books when I was a kid and I absolutely adored them, especially Ramona the Pest. What kid wouldn’t like a book with a title like that? Unlike the goody-goody children (whom you just wanted to strangle) that inhabited most kids books, Ramona misbehaved and had selfish, spiteful impulses—just like a real kid. If she thought something (or someone) was stupid, she said so.

One time her teacher was reading the world’s most boring children’s book, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, to Ramona’s class. It’s a real book. It’s about this guy Mike who spends his day excavating a giant pit with his steam shovel. Maybe boys like this book, but it had been read to me many times and I had never for a minute thought it had any merit. And here it was making a guest appearance in another book! Well, Ramona piped up and asked the teacher, “Where does Mike Mulligan go to the bathroom?” Good question. That’s exactly the kind of thing I’d like to know. That Mike Mulligan book would have been a thousand times more interesting if the author hadn't neglected to cover important details like that.* If memory serves, Ramona’s teacher gets all flustered and annoyed that Ramona has brought up such a taboo subject. I think the teacher might even have sent Ramona home with a note about her inappropriate question. Poor Ramona—she thought she was asking a legitimate question.

That’s the kind of book Beverly Cleary wrote. Until I moved to Portland, I had no idea that all the books she’d written had been set in Portland in the neighborhood surrounding Klickitat Street where Cleary grew up—a neighborhood very close to where we live now. It was fate! Cleary is arguably Portland’s most famous author, certainly Portland’s most famous children’s author. In fact, the children’s room in the central library downtown is named after her and there’s a bronze sculpture of her situated under a phony tree. It’s just a tiny bit creepy, actually. At our neighborhood branch, there’s a relief map of the neighborhood that shows the locations of all the landmarks from Cleary’s books including Ramona and her sister Beezus’s house on Klickitat Street. (Beezus! I love that there’s a character named Beezus [a corruption of Beatrice].) It’s cool.

Anyway, because Cleary’s been thus memorialized I had always assumed she’d been long dead. I was so surprised—and pleased—this afternoon to find out that she is still alive. She doesn’t live in Portland anymore, but the local NPR station called her up at her home in California and talked to her briefly. It wasn’t much of an interview, but they did talk to some local kids who love Cleary's books just as much as I did. I’m going to have to reread them now. I’m sure they’re just as wonderful as I remember.

*Ramona the Pest was written in the 1960s—the pre-portapotty era.


Blogger Palkia1212 said...

Portapotties were invented in the 1940s for boats.

6:10 PM  

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