Duck Duck Book

51 – emily’s runaway imagination
02.4.2008, 12:03 am
Filed under: fiction

Emily’s runaway imagination / Beverly Cleary, illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush.
New York, Morrow, 1961.
[MCL call number: j CLEARY; five copies, one hold; one copy reference only at Central Library]

Emily lives in Pitchfork, a tiny town in Yamhill County, Oregon, in the 1920s. As her story begins, she has just received a letter from her cousin Muriel, a girl her own age who lives in Portland and is blessed with a public library to provide her with a copy of Black Beauty. Emily thinks it is punishingly unfair that Pitchfork has no library, from which she might also borrow a copy of Black Beauty, and tells her mother as much. Emily’s mother is not only sympathetic, but proactive, and that very day she writes to the State Library in Salem to inquire about how the citizens of Pitchfork might set up their own library. As the book progresses and Emily has other adventures, the town’s library slowly moves from idea to reality, with the help of Emily, her mother, and many of their friends and neighborhoods.

(As you can imagine, this is a story that makes the heart of any public librarian glad. And perhaps particularly so a public librarian here in Oregon, where rural and small town libraries, like many cultural institutions outside the glare of urban areas, are both strong and weak. And it is worth noting, for those of you who think of her merely as the famed and award-winning author of the Ramona books, that Beverly Cleary is a librarian as well as a writer, so perhaps the storyline is no surprise. But I digress. . .)

Emily is vivacious and energetic, and although she often makes mistakes or confuses things unnecessarily in the course of her many adventures, the turmoil is relatively sedate. There is no terrible upset for her to undo — trouble is sorted out in short order and with the comforting mantle of family and community around her Emily is safe to muddle about until she finds the path she means to take.

And the stories are fast-paced, almost self-contained little novel-ettes in each chapter: Emily helps her mother throw a party for the matrons of the town, she dresses up a plow horse like a graceful steed when her cousin Muriel comes to visit, she drives around with her grandfather in his newfangled automobile, she makes a homely looking custard pie, and so on. This would be a very good book for reading out loud at bedtime — each chapter is substantial and reads almost a separate story, but the tale of the town’s library is always in the background providing a nice sense of continuity, accomplishment, and civic togetherness.


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