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Berkeley Breathed returns to Vashon for ‘Red Ranger’ reading

“Red Ranger Came Calling” answers the age-old question: How did this bike come to be embedded in a tree? - Robert Teagardin photo
“Red Ranger Came Calling” answers the age-old question: How did this bike come to be embedded in a tree?
— image credit: Robert Teagardin photo

Renowned cartoonist, author and illustrator Berkeley Breathed will bring his most famous book to life on Saturday when he reads “Red Ranger Came Calling” while larger-than-life illustrations and a musical score accompany his narration.

Breathed, a former Islander, will share his “guaranteed true Christmas tale,” a whimsical story set on Vashon, in a multi-media fundraiser event for the Vashon Community Care Center.

The author — creator of longstanding national comic strips Bloom County and Opus — said he’s “incredibly excited” about returning to the Island, where he lived for a decade, and narrating his popular children’s book, which sheds light on the now infamous red bike mysteriously wedged into an Island tree a dozen feet up.

“Time to return to the scene of the crime,” Breathed wrote in an e-mail.

The reading of the children’s book, which follows the holiday adventures of a kid nicknamed “Red,” will take place at Open Space for Arts & Community, located less than a mile from the bike in the tree, which is just north of Sound Food.

“You can’t ask for more resonance with a children's book than to be able to virtually walk to the last surprising page after the reading,” Breathed said.

The original illustrations in “Red Ranger” will be projected on a screen behind Breathed as he reads the story and a score by Leonard Bernstein plays. Several original Breathed paintings will also be on display.

Breathed’s story is one where realistic and fantastical Vashon co-mingle — from the main character’s matter-of-fact Aunt Vy, based on longtime Islander Vy Biel, owner of The Country Store & Gardens, to the reclusive elderly Islander Saunder Clos, who lives in the Point Robinson lighthouse and may be Santa himself. “Red Ranger” was made into a play and performed by Seattle’s Book-It Theatre and Vashon’s Drama Dock in the past few years.

The lovable older Saunder Clos character makes “Red Ranger” a good fit for a Vashon Community Care Center fundraiser, said Linda Milov-soroff, the center’s director of development.

The fundraiser is a critical one for the care center, she added, which has had its state funding slashed in the last year. Milovsoroff said she hopes the event will raise $10,000 — enough to pay for the center’s out-of-pocket expenses for a year of care for two residents on Medicaid.

“If we made $10,000, that would cover uncompensated care for two residents,” Milovsoroff said. “That just shows you how much money we need to keep raising to keep Vashon Community Care Center operating.”

Breathed said he’s glad to be participating in a fundraiser for the elder care facility.

“I couldn't imagine a better marriage," he said in his e-mail. “My story is about continuity and faith in others, community and caring.”

Breathed was drawn to Vashon in 1988, he said, because of the Island’s reputation as a progressive, interesting place to live and because of its miles of peaceful shoreline. A private person, Breathed said Vashon was “a nice place to hide” while he was cartooning. The Pulitzer Prize winner illustrated and narrated cartoons for more than two decades before stopping last year to focus on writing children’s books.

“The whole community is excited about Berkeley coming back,” Milovsoroff said. “He has a big fan following.”

Residents at the care center have been preparing for the event, she added, creating luminaries to light the walkways at Open Space for Arts & Community. Some of the care center’s residents plan to attend the “Red Ranger” reading as well.

In anticipation that some people may want to see the real life “bike in a tree,” students from The Harbor School are working to improve the path that leads to the bike.

On Saturday, Mardi Ljubich of Shefidgets Cat-ering at Sound Food will greet pilgrims to the bike with baked goods, soup and hot drinks for sale.

And when people purchase tickets to Saturday’s book reading, they’ll receive a list of discounts good at Island shops, restaurants and bed and breakfasts this weekend only.

“We need to raise money for Vashon Community Care Center, and this seems like a fun way to do it, and an event that the Island will enjoy,” Milovsoroff said. “It’s a unique Vashon-style family event that we think families will love.”

“An Evening with Berkeley Breathed” takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, at Open Space for Arts & Community. The event features refreshments, a “Red Ranger” costume contest judged by Breathed and live music by Mark Graham and W.B. Reid before and after the book reading. The reading will be followed by a question-and-answer and autograph session with the author.

Tickets to the event, $15 to $25, can be purchased at Books by the Way, Vashon Bookshop, Vashon Community Care Center and brownpapertickets.com. It is anticipated that the event will sell out.

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