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Foster traces Portland paths of beloved kids' author Beverly Cleary

COURTESY PHOTO - LAURA O. FOSTERLaura O. Foster shortcuts down an ivy bank in Northeast Portland’s Grant Park, past the Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins and Ribsy sculptures, and the sidewalk she lands on leads straight to the Beverly Cleary School at Fernwood — inspirations for her new book.

Foster is the author of four Portland walking books, and her newest is “Walking with Ramona, Exploring Beverly Cleary's Portland,” and this is a target-rich environment.

“Walking with Ramona” ($9.95, Microcosm Publishing), set for full distribution in October, is just the right size to tuck in a bag. The book encompasses a 3.2-mile tour of streets that shaped beloved Portland writer Beverly Cleary and her fictional character, Ramona. It highlights the places the young Beverly Bunn would have roamed, skipped or skated in 1920s Portland. Some spots are unchanged. For brisk walkers, the tour takes about an hour, but browsers could take a day exploring the shops, views and tree-draped streets Foster points out.

You ready to go? Take in the same huge white elm tree on Northeast Hancock Street that Cleary saw from the front porch of her home across the street, and walk to the Roseway Theater where she watched silent movies and honed her reading skills. The tour includes two of the homes the Bunns rented and the one they eventually owned, and the schools and library that figured in Cleary’s childhood.

Foster read most of Cleary’s books — about 40 in all — and her two autobiographies while researching her book, an expanded version of tours she led for the Hollywood Library to celebrate the Portland places of Cleary. When more than 200 people showed up for one of her tours, Foster decided to simply put the tour into people’s hands.

“This is one of the places Beverly Cleary would have come,” Foster says, from inside Fleur de Lis Bakery & Cafe in Northeast Portland, the site of two former libraries. “It’s where she decided to become a librarian.”

That’s a career Beverly chose to support, the one she decided on in seventh grade: to write books for children that she would enjoy reading herself.

Stop by the mosaic on the Northeast 33rd Avenue side of Beverly Cleary School. It depicts Ramona high-stepping and grinning. Today there’s a QFC grocery store across the street from the school. That’s where Abendroth’s, a corner store that figured in Cleary’s books, once stood. An essay contest for Fernwood students was held there.

Foster writes, “The winner of the best animal essay would win $2. She chose to write about Oregon’s state animal, the beaver. Her essay won partly because she was already a good writer, but more so because she was the only one who submitted one. What she said about that was, 'Try! Others will talk about writing, but never get around to trying.'"

As was true in Ramona’s day, middle- and low-income Portlanders now struggle amid rising rents and low wages. Money woes chipped away at the Cleary family, too, and these themes surface in the Ramona books.

In “Ramona and Her Mother,” which won the National Book Award in 1981, Ramona yearns to draw close to her mother, who is working more hours to make ends meet. Ramona thought: How come nobody ever calls me my mother’s girl? How come Mother never says she could never get along without me? Feeling misunderstood, Ramona squeezes a whole tube of toothpaste into the sink, enjoying doing something she’d never dared try before.

Today Cleary lives in Carmel, Calif. She will turn 100 years old on April 12. Unfortunately, Foster’s book isn’t scheduled to publish until October, but limited copies will be available by April. In the meantime, Portland’s Microcosm Publishing has launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish the complete run of “Walking with Ramona” to coincide with planned Multnomah County Library and Portland Public School events. For info:

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