Kids who are part of a Secret Book Club in Ashland are using their imaginations to turn everyday places into settings for fantastical stories.
Members of the club meet at TreeHouse Books on the Plaza in downtown Ashland and make treks to locations such as the Ashland Springs Hotel, ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
At the different spots around town, the kids get a message hidden in a plastic egg that suggests a story possibility.
Secret Book Club member Lilli Morrish
The 7 kids had been searching and searching for any signs of the portal, but none so far. That something had been freely open just yesterday and seemingly gone today baffled them. They had searched all of Lithia Park and the surrounding areas, paying special attention to the spot where the leaf people had came out yesterday. Still no sign of anything out of the ordinary. It was as if all the magic had been sucked out of the park.
When the kids were about to give up, Isaiah spotted something that made him feel a little better, but not much.
He high-fived his friend, and said, "Hey, Will! What's up?"
The other kid replied with a sly smile and, "Nothing much. Just going to brunch at Larks. My dad just got back from a business trip."
Isaiah could instantly tell that his friend was hiding something. "And? What else? Don't try to tell me there's nothing else."
It was that easy. Will was dying to spill his secret. "Okay. So I saw this thing at the Ashland Springs, in one of their tall glass display cases, right? I looked closer, and it's a time machine. Not even kidding. A real, live time machine, right down the street."
Then they put their imaginations to work.
Lilli Morrish, age 11, said she used a time traveling machine-themed sculpture by artist David Ralston as inspiration for a story she wrote.
The intricate sculpture rests inside a curio cabinet in the Ashland Springs Hotel lobby.
Morrish's story describes a portal guarded by a bird that leads into a secret world.
She said writing stories for the Secret Book Club has changed how she views Ashland.
"Everybody has these fantasies of, 'What if this place had this hidden world? What if this tree had elves? What if?' Whenever I go to new places now, I see them in a whole new light — in that 'what if?' light," Morrish said.
"Kids lose what I'll call their 'magic' because they think, 'Oh, that's not real.' With the Secret Book Club, we can write about magical places. It's so nice to have that freedom," she added.
The Secret Book Club was created by TreeHouse Books Co-owner Jane Almquist and Cynthia Salbato, owner of a multi-media company called Pandora Productions.
The two said local businesses and organizations have been welcoming to club members. They have plans for more club outings to locations in Ashland and even more community involvement.
"Wherever we go, people say, 'Yes, we want to help.' Anything is possible when we as a town decide we want to do something," Salbato said.
Some members of the Secret Book Club are home schooled, while others come from local public schools.
Almquist and Salbato also worked with Ashland Middle School students from teacher Dick Streng's language arts class. The students worked in the computer lab on stories inspired by Secret Book Club themes.
Ashland High School students are helping with club activities, dressing up as characters to help spark kids' imaginations.
Sophomore Aidan Zyth enjoys dressing as a prince whose role is to protect the balance of magic.
Zyth said she wishes the Secret Book Club had existed when she was younger.
"This is what my childhood should have been and I will make it happen for these kids," Zyth said. "I always wanted something like this."
Esperanza del Campo, age 12, said it's fun to see the high schoolers and adults who help with the club dress up as characters.
The younger children often wear fanciful costumes as well.
Because of the club, del Campo recently wrote a story inspired by Greek mythology in which she is a character trying to get back to her home planet, Mercury.
Del Campo said being part of the club is a great prompt for reading and writing more often — plus the meetings at TreeHouse books and around town have been fun.
"You get to meet friends, have fun, play and learn. It's exciting," she said. "I haven't been to a boring one yet."
For more information about the Secret Book Club, which usually meets on Friday afternoons, call TreeHouse Books at 541-482-9616 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The book store is located at 15 N. Main St.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or email@example.com.