OAKLAND -- There are schools with gardens.

There are schools with art displays.

There are schools with books.

Peralta Elementary, nestled in north Oakland just off Alcatraz Avenue, is more like an art-filled garden in which a book-loving community has planted a school.

On Sunday, a central courtyard bore no trace of the fire that swept through the structure in 2007. Landscape architect and parent Pen Phillip's design -- adobe-toned ground stones surrounded by bursting ferns, native flowering bushes and tenderly-curving fruit trees -- is unobstructed and bathed in sunlight.

Straight ahead, the 20-foot-high back side of the multiuse building is a riot of color.

Magnificent murals decorate nearly every exterior surface on the school's campus. In one, three-dimensional children dance and cartwheel across a painting of a landscape. A daisy chain of ladybugs cavort under windows along the library building. And winding fences, separating playground equipment, raised garden beds, and class gathering areas are adorned with year-round sunflowers and bright, red cardinals.

If the school someday replaces the mostly-portables 1960s architecture, the murals will not be lost. The detachable artwork will be removed and reapplied to the new design.

But it's not all paint and plants at Peralta.


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The school that began in 1880 is now a California Distinguished School and a National Blue Ribbon Award School. Student work is displayed at the American Embassy in Moscow. Alumni include notable civic and state leaders, but they are no more impressive than people like Principal Rosette Costello, longtime custodian Paul Andrews and Leah Fortin, a parent of former students.

The trio forms a group responsible for Peralta's newest incarnation: bookstore big tent.

In 2011, Fortin had a casual conversation with Ann Leyhe, who is the co-owner with Marion Abbott of the independent Berkeley bookstore, Mrs. Dalloway's. The Elmwood neighborhood store is popular and author events were stretching the shop's 75-person capacity.

"I immediately thought of Peralta, because we can seat 250," Fortin said. "Rosette gave her approval, the parent teacher group held a bake sale and we had 150 people come to hear Anne Lamott last spring. I put together people and events in the East Bay -- I can't help it."

Costello said an active and inclusive parent-teacher group makes her art-centric school welcoming. Partnering with local businesses expands the school's vitality and community awareness. A painter herself, she has a reputation among parents and staff for a dry sense of humor and a belief in academic enrichment through the arts.

Kicking off their fall collaboration of visiting authors, the school and bookstore announced their list: Annie Barrows, author of the newly released "Ivy + Bean Make the Rules" (Chronicle), and Louise Erdrich, whose reading of "The Round House" (Harper) is scheduled for Oct. 17.

On Sunday, approximately 100 people found their seats to hear Barrows in Peralta's multiuse room.

"Being 7-years old is the pinnacle of life; we all know that," Barrows begins, causing a sudden hush to quiet the crowd.

Barrows in person is as entertaining as her books' feisty gal-pal characters.

"Ivy is the kind of kid who likes to read big books. Bean is the kind of kid who likes to run around and scream and fall out of big trees," she explained.

When she reads from her new book, she does it with a flourish -- mimed gestures and a sound track, which include giggles, squeals, shouts, and cheering when her characters delight the kids.

In the question-and-answer session, Barrows is asked:

Were you like Ivy or Bean when you were a kid?

"I was like both of them. I read books and ran around screaming, '(I'm a) Combo plate.'"

Do you have advice for young writers?

"You should not try to write other people's books again. Write your own story and read lots of books."

Why are Ivy and Bean always 7?

"Because in a perfect world, everybody would be 7 forever. I'm the writer, so I get to make the world."