If you’ve ever ventured into the shelf-bowing wonderland Green Bean Books at NE Alberta and 16th, chances are you’ve been helped by Earl Dizon, whose ace recommendations—he can pluck a title for anyone from a dinosaur-obsessed 5-year-old to a fantasy-forward tween—have made him a customer favorite and an essential pandemic companion during the long, long months of remote schooling. Raised in the Philippines, Dizon moved to San Francisco, back to the Philippines with his family, then to Las Vegas—“gambling wasn’t exactly my cup of tea,” he says—and found his way to Portland in 2008. Since then, he’s become a local literary treasure, known for his blog (The Chronicles of a Children’s Book Writer) and famous 52-favorite-books list, from Agatha Christie to Christopher Pike. But he’s found most often among the colorful tchotchkes at Green Bean Books, volunteering at one of the city’s literary nonprofits, or lost in the stacks of a local library near you. —As told to Fiona McCann
Being someone from a different country and trying to fit in to the American life, as an adult, I just realized how much I had to give up to fit in. You don’t want to speak in your native language, because that was frowned upon. And then you lose touch with cultural traditions. Nowadays, I’m just trying to grasp and remember all of them, because that’s who I am. It’s like trying to rediscover the person I kind of had to push aside to fit in. Sometimes I feel like I’m not Filipino enough, but other people will think I’m not American enough, despite feeling that I’ve been so Americanized. In my mind, I think I sound like Chandler Bing from Friends, but when I hear myself in recordings or videos, I do have an accent. So I’m learning to be OK with that, because it is who I am.
I still remember that moment in 1995, when I finished reading a young adult novel, and then looking into space for a few seconds, and feeling satisfied and thinking to myself, ‘Oh, I want to create this feeling for other people.’ It made sense to me to try and become a children’s book writer, you know, start them young, and then they’ll become a lifelong reader.
I feel like I’m one of those lucky people who’s very aware of what he likes. I like books. I feel like one of my missions in life is the commitment to literacy: bookselling, talking about books in person or through the blog, or volunteering with the library or other nonprofits like the Children’s Book Bank, or Write Around Portland. Another thing I do [is] library hopping. [Libraries are] like friends. When I moved to Portland, I was able to go [to the library], used their computers to find a place to stay. And then the library, through volunteering, is where I met friends. Also, I took one of their classes to become an American citizen.
Ever since Green Bean Books opened in 2009 I’ve been one of those customers who probably frequented the store too often, because I love the store. And [co-owner] Jennifer [Green] always gave great book recommendations. Then the summer of 2012 ... I got an email from Jennifer, and later that July, I ended up working at Green Bean Books. It just seemed like a perfect situation. I was tickled by the idea that it was a kids’ bookstore, even though I had no kids and I was definitely way past being considered a kid.
We’ve been in a renaissance of great kids’ literature, so there’s no shortage of great books for me to recommend. [And at Green Bean], not to brag, but I feel like we do have the best customers, too ... that connection you make, to quote a term from one of my 52 favorite books, Anne of Green Gables, finding your kindred spirits in other readers.
Everyone, including adults, should read more kids’ books to be reminded of the stories and the messages that they contain, because kids’ books show how kids are wonderful and special and capable of doing things. Adults need to be reminded of that, too. And they need to know about how to be nicer to others, how to be friends. So if they need to pick up pointers from Frog and Toad and just to see the wonders of the world, like from Milo in The Phantom Tollbooth and Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables, they have those people waiting to show them the way to being kinder people, to others and to the world and to themselves.