From Chinaberry's founder, Ann Ruethling:
When Chinaberry began back in 1982, I personally handled each order - with my 2-year-old daughter Elizabeth's help. Elizabeth was my first child, and it's because of her that Chinaberry, Inc. came to be. Well - she AND the fact that living in Oregon with a toddler during a winter when it rained 13 FEET in five months resulted in major cabin fever. This cabin fever was successfully endured thanks to library books (and baking bread nearly every day).
Now if you are a parent, you know that NOTHING is good enough for your first child! In my case, I was disturbed by the lack of caring and respect expressed in many of the children's books we found at the library, not to mention the sexism and violence. (Remember the Mother Goose nursery rhyme about the old lady who lived in the shoe and beat her kids soundly before she put them to bed?) Before long, I found I had another mission in life (other than eating home-made bread): to search out books for Elizabeth that were positive and uplifting, because it looked as if the sun would never shine, and we'd be reading books together forever (or at least until global warming caused the ocean's water level to swallow up this little coastal Oregon town once and for all).
Much work went into that little project of mine. I subscribed to numerous children's literature publications and scouted out as many libraries as I could. I started keeping notes on index cards about the books I liked and at what age I wanted to introduce Elizabeth to each book. By the time my stack of index cards was three or four inches high, I began to realize how much time and energy had gone into this mission of mine. And I realized there were probably a lot of other concerned parents who could greatly benefit from my stack of 3x5's. I felt that if parents could just feed all those wonderful books into the hearts and minds of their children, the world would have to become a better place. Thus, Chinaberry was conceived - at first as a free service, and then as a catalog business to make it easier for parents to buy the books I was telling them about.
Today our catalog is mailed three times a year to more than 3.5 million people worldwide, and we sell more than one million books annually. What often makes me believe this is all just a pleasant dream is that I never sat down to think of what I could do to make money, back during those days of howling wind and rain in Oregon. What I thought about was filling a need I had: to give my child wonderful, uplifting reading experiences that would color her whole life in a positive way and to help her to grow into a caring, gentle person. Not only have I found that thousands of others (our customers) have the same vision for their children, but also that when something is somehow "meant to be," it manages to jump any hurdle it finds in its way.
My hope is that Chinaberry continues to thrive in the same spirit it has since that first trusting customer sent $18.93 to a PO Box in Port Orford, Oregon. My vision is that Chinaberry remains as intimate and focused as those days when I packed a few orders on the kitchen table with my toddler.