"Your Pink Bear must be out of order," said the Wizard: "for, this time at least, his machinery has caused him to make an untrue statement." -- from "The Lost Princess of Oz
As a child I almost literally devoured books. I read them all day if I could get away with it, and often while eating. From ages eight through fourteen or so I read with as much enthusiasm as I gave to playing, sleeping or to eating.
I really seemed to need to read, and still do. I was a fast reader, and I still am, and burned my way through a book a day. I thought it was great if a book was really thick, and might last a whole week. Being the child of bohemian parents I was not allowed to watch much television, and of course there were no computers or cell phones to distract me.
When I was little I lived with my mother in my stepfather's wooden house truck that he built by hand. We drove all over the United States, stopping at craft fairs and Renaissance art fairs throughout the country. We traveled from the west coast to the east coast, from Mexico to Canada, crawling over mountains and rolling over vast deserts, all in the 51-foot housetruck my stepfather had built.
To make money my parents sold their handmade jewelry (stepdad) and clothing (mom) to tourists, and I didn't go to school. I had a lot of time on my hands and usually spent them exploring whatever town, or forest, or river we happened to be camping next to, and by reading.
My stepfather is a collector. Our house was a handcrafted rolling museum of his collections, which were many. Turn of the century brass fittings, crystal bud vases, art nouveau glass kerosine lamps, colored glass automotive dashboard parts, leaded glass windows, antique glass beaded curtains, and even a cast iron pot-bellied stove that glowed red hot in the winter. It was a beautiful home, cozy and artful. In it were also his collection of L.Frank Baum's wonderful Oz books.
Those twelve or so books, all very early hard-bound editions, became my best friends during the three years we lived in the house truck. I read and re-read them at least six times each. Dorothy and Ozma, Betsy and Trot and I were all fast friends, and went on adventures together, even though I was alone in the house truck. J.R. Niell's fantastic, amazing, delightful illustrations took me away to an elegant, art-nouveau world of magic and chivalry and where sweetness always beat out the dark forces. Funny, brave, and endlessly creative, these stories from 1908 are a gentle voice from another world, and helped me cope with our own real-life journey into the unknown.
Dorothy's adventurous journeys weren't the only thing I shared with the books. Strangely enough, although I was living in a time 150 years later my own home closely resembled that of the time period. My stepfather and mother's taste ran to the Victorian, and I read these beautiful books actually sitting on vintage velvet cushions by the light of stained glass kerosine lamps. When it was time for bed, I crawled up the little oak steps trimmed with brass fittings into my little wooden loft. I slept under a patchwork quilt and had a large skylight just above my head. I would lay there listening to the night that was right outside my little loft, and dream of meeting Ozma.
When I grew up, the books were sold. I was saddened by this, but then I got a job at one of the most wonderful bookstores in the world, Powell's Books. In those magical, hallowed halls I had access to the most obscure and interesting out-of-print used books anywhere on the globe.
Over the next three years I kept a close eye on the "Middle Readers 'B'" section in the children's room. There, L.Frank Baum's (and later Ruth Plumly Thompson's) books were shelved, and once in a while a slightly battered early edition like the ones in the house truck would appear. I never appreciated my employee's discount more than when I could use it to rebuild the collection. Now my own bookshelves proudly display my own collection of these magical books.
I am still soothed by the graceful illustrations of JR Neil, and the echoes of the voices of L.Frank Baum and Ruth Plumly Thompson. I pull these books out often and re read them, while having lunch at the kitchen table. I find new things in them all the time, and with my own maturing and new perspective I appreciate more and and more each time I read one. It makes me want to thank the author and the illustrator again and again. May their spirits be touched by the heartfelt gratitude of all of the children they have comforted and inspired.