Colin Meloy was always bound to write a kid’s book. For years, the hyper-literate bard and lead singer of Portland’s internationally lauded band the Decemberists has been spinning bedtime yarns about clipper ships and chimney sweeps, of finding angels in angles and of ghostly girls wandering parapets. Now, he and his partner, illustrator Carson Ellis—herself considered a local treasure for her whimsical line drawings and gouache paintings—have set themselves a new task. Infect a new generation with the Lit-pop bug, this time in the form of a series of novels for middle-school-aged kids. The first book of the couple’s planned series is called Wildwood. Much of it is set in Portland, of course (St. Johns, to be specific), and named for the trail that winds through Forest Park, which Meloy has reimagined as an “impassable wilderness” home to coyote soldiers and kid mystics alike. With its wry tone and fantastical creatures, it’s a perfect tribute to a city that sees creative forms of arrested development as a birthright and has elevated hobbies—from backyard chicken keeping to soapbox derby racing—to art forms. The first book debuts next Tuesday, Aug. 30, with a kickoff reading and discussion with Meloy and Ellis at the Bagdad Theater. But before that, WW gives you a little taste of what your nephews, daughters and neighbors will all have their noses buried in this fall—the first chapter of Wildwood.
And it had been such a nice day.
True, it had been a little gray when Prue woke up that morning, but what September day in Portland wasn’t? She had drawn up the blinds in her bedroom and had paused for a moment, taking in the sight of the tree branches outside her window, framed as they were by a sky of dusty white-gray. It was Saturday, and the smell of coffee and breakfast was drifting up from downstairs. Her parents would be in their normal Saturday positions: Dad with his nose in the paper, occasionally hefting a lukewarm mug of coffee to his lips; Mom peering through tortoiseshell bifocals at the woolly mass of a knitting project of unknown determination. Her brother, all of one year old, would be sitting in his high chair, exploring the farthest frontiers of unintelligible babble: Doose! Doose! Sure enough, her vision was proven correct when she came downstairs to the nook off the kitchen. Her father mumbled a greeting, her mother’s eyes smiled from above her glasses, and her brother shrieked, “Pooo!” Prue made herself a bowl of granola. “I’ve got bacon on, darling,” said her mother, returning her attention to the amoeba of yarn in her hands (was it a sweater? A tea cozy? A noose?).
“Mother,” Prue had said, now pouring rice milk over her cereal, “I told you. I’m a vegetarian. Ergo: no bacon.” She had read that word, ergo, in a novel she’d been reading. That was the first time she had used it. She wasn’t sure if she’d used it right, but it felt good. She sat down at the kitchen table and winked at Mac. Her father briefly peered over the top of his paper to give her a smile.
“What’s on the docket today?” said her father. “Remember, you’re watching Mac.”
“Mmmm, I dunno,” Prue responded. “Figured we’d hang around somewhere. Rough up some old ladies. Maybe stick up a hardware store. Pawn the loot. Beats going to a crafts fair.”
Her father snorted.
“Don’t forget to drop off the library books. They’re in the basket by the front door,” said her mother, her knitting needles clacking. “We should be back for dinner, but you know how long these things can run.”
“Gotcha,” said Prue.
Mac shouted, “Pooooo!” wildly brandished a spoon, and sneezed.
“And we think your brother might have a cold,” said her father. “So make sure he’s bundled up, whatever you do.”
(The crows lifted her brother higher into the overcast sky, and suddenly Prue enumerated another worry: But he might have a cold!)