Indy Spotlight: A Children’s Place, Portland OR

It’s always a treat to feature an independent bookstore devoted to children’s books, especially one that has been in continuous operation for years. Today we’re talking with Pam Lewis, owner of A Children’s Place in Portland, Oregon (

MUF: Portlanders love books. It would be hard to find another town with so many good independent bookstores, and yet some have folded recently. During the COVID challenge, what have your strategies been?
Pam: Well,  it’s been a lot more work and procedure to get books out the door. We’ve relied on face-timing and phone orders and delivering at the curb or sometimes directly to cars.

MUF Have you had good community support during this time?
Pam: Oh yes, that’s why we’re still here! Our community made a good effort to buy from us rather than from Amazon, even during the shutdown.

MUF: Have you been able to resume live events?
PAM: No. We will not have live events here again until all children can get vaccinated!

MUF: What kind of atmosphere do you aim to create in A Children’s Place?
PAM: Welcoming to all. We greet everyone, parents and kids, and offer to help them find their next best book. Our staff reads the books and talks about them with customers. The store has a little stage and colorful posters all around. Customers who have been coming to the store since they were babies are now in college and still coming.

MUF: How do you choose the titles to carry in your store?
Pam: We talk with book reps about what books are “hot,” and we order books from authors we know and like. We listen to the interests of the children who come into the store. In addition to fiction, our customers look for books about birds, nature books, and guides to Oregon trails.

MUF: As middle-grade authors we’re curious to know: what are some books, new or old that you find yourselves recommending to readers 8-12 these days? That they ask for?
Pam: Dragons and dragon stories are always in demand, as well as unicorns and dinosaurs. Series are big with this age group: Tui Sutherland’s The Wings of Fire (dragon epic), Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities (a telepathic girl in a strange world), Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories (fairytale adventures). In graphic series there’s Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet .
We’re finding, too, that parents who buy the books are looking back to the classics, books they read as children and want to share with their own.

MUF: Tell us about how your store pursues its mission of raising readers, including your relationships with teachers and with homeless students in the Community Transitional School?
Pam: We give discounts to teachers and work closely with them to help build classroom and student libraries. We’ve been active with the Community Transitional School from the beginning. This welcoming school provides a stable education for homeless children pre-school to 8th grade. It even provides transportation to the site, something that is often difficult for the homeless to manage. Every Christmas, we have a Giving Tree with book requests on it that our customers can purchase. This means we can deliver a new book to every child in the school each year.

MUF: Describe an ideal day for you at The Childrens Place.
Pam: It’s kids coming in and finding the next book they want to read. We get to know our customers, who the advanced readers are who are the reluctant readers. Helping them find good sci-fi or graphic novels or whatever their interests are is what we like to do.

MUF: If a family from out of town visited your store, would they find family-friendly places nearby to get a meal or snack after shopping and browsing? And if they could stay longer, are there some especially unique or interesting sites or activities nearby youd recommend for a family to see?
Pam: Yes. There’s Caffe Destino, Grain Gristle, and Lucca (Italian). There are so many sites of interest in the area, including The Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden, Mt. Hood, and numerous hiking trails.

Thank you, Pam, for taking the time to talk with us today. Readers, if you haven’t been to A Children’s Place, be sure to visit next time you’re in Portland. 1423 NE Fremont Street.

Interview With Cory Leonardo, Author of The Hedgehog Of Oz

I’m thrilled to welcome Cory Leonardo to the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle-Grade Authors to chat about her new novel, The Hedgehog of Oz. As a HUGE fan of all things OZ, I was especially excited to read this book. I was also keen to learn how she came up with the idea and if she was at all nervous about taking a trip down the yellow brick road. 

Tell us about The Hedgehog of Oz.

I’d love to! The Hedgehog of Oz is a story about a hedgehog named Marcel who convinces himself that his beloved owner Dorothy no longer loves him, so he runs away during a picnic at the park. He instantly regrets it. Lost Marcel finds his way to the abandoned balcony of the old Emerald City Theater where he and two comical chickens spend their days eating popcorn and candy and where he’s constantly tortured by the Saturday matinee: The Wizard of Oz, his and Dorothy’s favorite movie. But when the animals are found out, all of a sudden, Marcel is boxed-up and kicked to the countryside where he finds himself in an all-too-similar plot. He lands in Mousekinland. He meets Scamp, a spitfire of a mouse who’s trying to prove her smarts to everyone (while brandishing a sling-shooter); Ingot, a grumpy old squirrel without a heart; scared baby raccoon Tuffy, lost and afraid in the forest. There’s Oona the Luna moth to guide him; Toto, well, Toto is actually a fairly useless cocoon; there are awful seagulls, terrible rats, and an owl named Wickedwing stalking their every move. And then there’s home. And what home is. Is it the place you live? Or the people you live with?

How did you come up with the idea?

Marcel came to me first. I was watching a movie with my daughter and one of the side characters was the sweetest (if a little bumbling) character I’d seen in a long time. I instantly wanted to write a book with a character like that. I knew he’d need characters unlike him to balance the story, so I found a loud, brave mouse and a crotchety old squirrel. The problem was, I had no plot. I’d done some extensive research on the Wizard of Oz for a historical novel I began eons ago and had, at one time, used its characters as archetypes. One day it clicked. THIS was the book that was begging for Oz magic. Once I realized that, the book seemed to write itself!

Have you read many of the Oz books? If yes, which one is your favorite? 

I’ve actually only read the first!

Did you feel intimidated or anxious about writing a story that takes place in OZ? 

Maybe I should have? But with such a classic story there’s a lot of reassurance in knowing the bones of it are good. And sort of like my first book where I took classic poems and reworked them, I absolutely adore exploring beautiful art deeply, tearing it apart, and then playing with the pieces. 

Do you base your characters on people you know? If yes, spill the beans!

Oh yes. There are definitely pieces of people I know in them. My spunky 8-year-old niece came to mind a lot when writing Scamp. But I’ll pluck personalities, ways of speech, quirks, and hang-ups from anywhere. I love stealing TV personalities. There’s an awful lot of Betty White in Bertie Plopky in The Simple Art of Flying/Call Me Alastair.

How much of your real-life experiences play a role in the stories you tell? 

I’m a big believer in drawing on the well of your life experiences. It’s the only well you know deeply. I write a lot about animals because I grew up with a veterinarian mom. I love to write beautiful settings because I live for a good walk in the woods. But the deepest experiences I draw on are feelings. Anxiety, love, wonder, frustration, feeling small, dreaming big . . . I think it’s diving to the deepest part of the well, the human condition, that ends up connecting with the reader in the most intimate way.

What books did you like to read when you were a kid? Do those books influence your writing?

I actually didn’t read a ton of different books as a kid! We didn’t have many at home (the ones we did, I read a million times though), and I went to a tiny private school without a library. Once a week we trekked to the public library, but I tended to borrow the same books over and over again because it was overwhelming and unfortunately, no one was feeding us a list of books to try. The ones that stick with me the most are the few read aloud by parents and teachers: Narnia and Little House. Once I got to middle school, I found my “thing.” The Babysitter’s Club was EVERYTHING. I’m not sure how much my childhood reading influences my writing other than my desire to create a world that makes readers want to melt right into it, just as every good book does.

What are you working on now? 

Oh, lordy. A beast of a book that I think is trying to murder me? I sort of determined that before I started to write some of the more contemporary tales I’ve got swimming in my head, I wanted to cap off my animal characters, at least for a bit. This one is more of a gothic fantasy that jumps back and forth in time and has a missing prince, an unlikely hero of a girl, and magic, some of which has brought a few stuffed animals to life. If you don’t hear from me for a while, you know the book has succeeded in its diabolical murder plan.

What person, place or experience has most impacted your writing life?

Pitch Wars! Definitely. Being edited and mentored (by the brave Cindy Balwin and Amanda Rawson Hill–the best!) at that level of skill gave me an education that’s hard to get from craft books. You don’t know where your blind spots are until you’ve got a few pros pointing them out.

How long was your road to publishing and what happened along the way?

Long. I’d determined NOT to be a writer in college. I managed to avoid every creative writing course offered . . . and I have an English degree. It was too scary. I should’ve realized that the things you run from generally come looking for you in time. I stayed home with my kids, and when I got to the point where I needed to rethink careers, writing kept niggling the back of my mind. I tried to shut it up for a good eight years, even while researching everything about the business, the craft, writing in multiple genres, reading all the children’s books I never did as a kid, and querying picture books. The first novel I finished (there were many others I didn’t) was my Pitch Wars novel. And the rest is history. It was about ten years from start to seeing my book on shelves.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

This can change on any given day, but one thing I’m currently reminding myself is that while I am a writer, being a writer isn’t the total of me. There’s something about this business that can suck the soul from your chest at every stage–published or not. There’s always a height you haven’t reached, a book you haven’t written, meaning you haven’t found in it. Everytime you sit down to write, take off that weighty backpack of fear, guilt, pressure, and comparison, and give it a good kick. Write for the pleasure of writing. That pleasure will find its way into your work. That pleasure will attract people’s notice. And don’t neglect a good walk.

Everybody has a comfort food they turn to when they are feeling down or need an emotional hug. Do you have a comfort book?

When I need to be reminded of the beauty and importance of a good story, or when I just need to sigh and look with wonder on the world, I will always pick up a Kate DiCamillo book. She’s a master.

Thank you for spending time with us at the MUF Files. It has been great getting to know you. I loved The Hedgehog of Oz and hope more adventures are coming our way.  

To learn more about Cory Leonardo, please visit her website. 


STEM Tuesday — The Living Seas– Interview with Patricia Newman

STEM Tuesday

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the last Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Patricia Newman, award winning author of the newly released Planet Ocean.  Combined with Annie Crawley’s stunning photography, Patricia’s research provides an immersive experience for readers of all ages. You’ll also meet some of the people fighting to maintain the ocean’s vital role in sustaining life on our planet.

Before you start, check out this fascinating trailer featuring video shot on location and fascinating facts about the ocean ecosystems:  “Why your library needs Planet Ocean”

Planet Ocean is a beautiful book. It explains the subject material in a beautiful way and the photographs are incredible.  A must read with your children. 

Jeff Bridges, Academy Award winning actor and environmentalist

* * *

Patricia NewmanChristine Taylor-Butler: Patricia, in a past life you have been a teacher, a computer programmer, and an Assistant Director for Cornell University’s regional office. In those capacities, you’ve traveled all over the world, including Kenya with a geneticist as a volunteer for the San Diego Zoo. Do you ever slow down?

Patricia Newman: My husband asks the same question, Christine. I confess I have a hard time sitting still and I enjoy working on multiple projects simultaneously. That said, I relish quiet time, too, to read, soak up nature, and allow my brain to make the connections that ultimately inspire book ideas.


CTB: You received the Sibert Honor award for your book Sea Otter Heroes. You mention that a teacher once described fiction as “heart” and nonfiction as “facts.” You said it hurt your feelings. Could you elaborate?

Sea OttersPatricia: The conference speaker was asked to define fiction and nonfiction. She said, “Fiction is the heart and nonfiction is the facts.” And you’re right, Christine. That bland, watered down definition hurt my feelings because she implied nonfiction authors don’t add heart to their work. What about children’s biographies profiling people that empower children to reach for the stars? What about the scientists in books such as Sea Otter Heroes who inspire the next generation of scientists? What about books on focused topics, such as sharks, bugs, or space, that feed the curiosity of young readers? Nonfiction authors write from personal experience and passion. Our topics come from who we are as people and light fires within us. And we want to share that passion with young readers – both as they read our work and as they write. I’d advise teachers out there to pick up a copy of Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep edited by Melissa Stewart. Share with students the essays from 50 nonfiction authors and try to mimic our pre-writing process to add heart to student work.


CTB: Your body of work is such a joyful exploration of both science and the human spirit that seeks to explore and improve the environment. Where did that passion come from?

Patricia: When I was young, I watched bugs. I grew vegetables. I scoured tidepools. I compared the shapes of leaves. Like all children, I was a natural scientist, and my questions led my “investigations.” I guess I’m one of the lucky ones because I never lost that desire to question. I still spend as much time outdoors as I can. Because of my love of science, I understand our connection to our natural world – how it feeds our souls, how it supports life on our planet. Whenever I hear about an amazing scientist working to help others understand this connection, I look for the story.

I often hear librarians say that history is people. What I’d like to hear more of is history AND science is people. The scientific skills of observation, investigation, and analysis form the bedrock of the discovery process in any discipline, whether history, language, culture, or mathematics.


CTB: Let’s talk about Planet Ocean. It’s an amazing work. You collaborated with Annie Crawley, a professional diver and photographer who explores oceans all over the world with a dive team. How did you first meet?

Planet ocean coverPatricia: Planet Ocean is my third book with the amazing Annie Crawley. We first met while I was working on Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. After the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX) returned to dry land, I contacted the scientists I wanted to interview for the book. I also contacted Annie because she was the expedition photographer, and I knew no one would have the kind of images she had. At the time, not too many people were willing to talk trash, and Annie was thrilled to showcase the expedition’s disturbing findings in a book for kids. Plastic, Ahoy! was one of the first children’s books about marine debris and it has inspired more children than I can count. One middle school reader later wrote her college essay about how Plastic, Ahoy! inspired her to study ocean plastic.


CTB: When Annie traveled to take location shots, she uploaded audio and video so you could stay connected with the source material. Was it hard to live the adventures vicariously?

Crawley with Whale


Dive/Photographer Annie Crawley

Patricia: I was fortunate to travel to Seattle where Annie and I began our research for the Salish Sea chapter of Planet Ocean. We interviewed several scientists and experts by phone and in person. I also spoke to Annie’s Dive Team about communicating science through writing.

Annie already had science expeditions planned for Indonesia and the Arctic, so I knew early on that I would have to live vicariously. (One interesting note: Publishers rarely fund nonfiction research expenses.) Annie recorded and, in many cases, videoed the interviews, she traveled with my questions in hand and frequently added her own, and often included messages to me from our experts. When Annie and composer Stella Sung met for a performance of Oceana, they called me from the car to celebrate!
Note: Find out more about Annie Crawley at: and


CTB: The book is a wonderful marriage of science and profiles in courage. I was taken with the enormous diversity of people featured who are active in their local communities combating activities that threaten the health of our oceans. Who stands out the most to you? Is there one particular story that stayed with you after the book was finished?

Patricia: I feel like you’re asking me to pick my favorite child, Christine! I love all the stories – Aji Piper who’s not fighting for climate change, but human change; Eben Hopson who makes films to give his Iñupiat people a voice; Helen Pananggung and her indomitable group of children who clean their Indonesian beach every week; Nicole Helgason who replants coral; Dana Wlson who mourns the lack of salmon in his native waters; the kids and teens from Annie’s Dive Team who lobby the state legislature and made two inspiring films for Planet Ocean.


photo credit:

These people and their stories are connected by their love of and their dependence on the ocean And they are working as hard as they can to make sure we all understand that connection.

The stories also demonstrate how readers can take action in their own lives and become a voice for the sea. Annie and I ultimately want readers to love the ocean because we protect what we love.


CTB: Planet Ocean features QR codes that link to videos of Annie and the dive team on location. It really brings the book alive and puts the reader in the middle of the action. I found myself stopping to explore beyond the text. How did that idea come about?

Patricia: I’m so happy you watched them! When I wrote Eavesdropping on Elephants, my editor loved the idea of including QR codes to hear the elephants talking just as the scientists did in the forest. The QR codes are a popular feature of that book.

QR exampleWhen Annie and I partnered again for Planet Ocean, her filmmaking skills seemed like a natural fit for QR codes. We wrote and designed Planet Ocean with an underwater perspective. The QR codes give readers the opportunity to dive below the surface to witness what happens for themselves.


CTB: To help you get up close and personal with the material, Annie and her team taught you how to scuba dive. What was that like?

Patricia: Annie began with a classroom lesson that included how to breathe through a regulator, how to read my portable computer to keep track of my air supply, how to clear my mask, and the science of diving.

Newman and CrawleyThen I dressed in my wet suit, flippers, mask, snorkel, buoyancy vest, and air tank. The air tank is astonishingly heavy on land! We dove in an indoor pool – the water in the Salish Sea hovers around 45 degrees and requires a dry suit and more diving skills than I currently possess. I learned how to breathe slowly, remain neutrally buoyant, and maneuver in the water with all the equipment. We also practiced safety techniques, such as communicating with our buddy. Of course, the Dive Team swam circles around me.

The real challenge was the underwater photo – holding my end of Annie’s camera housing steady while maintaining neutral buoyancy – not sinking too deep or floating to the surface.


CTB: You’ve written a wide range of nonfiction topics. Many people don’t know that books often start with an idea and a pitch to an editor. It’s a lot of research to conduct for a project that may not find a home. How do you find the right balance?

Patricia: Longer form nonfiction usually begins with a proposal or sales document that provides an overview of the concept, a chapter outline, and a list of the experts I plan to interview. And you’re right, Christine, balance is key.

Before beginning the proposal, I contact the scientists I’d like to feature to get their buy-in. I explain the time commitment involved after the book sells. If they are interested in working with me, I read to acquaint myself with the topic and develop a list of questions. I then set up a 20- to 30-minute interview with the scientist(s) to get at the highlights and dig deep enough to discover a possible narrative thread but not take advantage of the scientists’ time. I must be extremely efficient. If you’re interested in proposal writing, explore this article I wrote for Melissa Stewart’s Celebrate Science blog.



CTB: You’ve done a number of articles and interviews about your passion for writing. But the one that stuck out was your call to action in Publisher’s Weekly about conventions where publishers and vendors give away thousands of plastic items and tote bags in the quest to sell books. You make some sensible suggestions for sustainable options. Could you give a few here?

Patricia: All my environmental titles include a call to action because we must be grateful for nature and begin giving back. Page 53 of Planet Ocean includes several concrete suggestions. In addition, please consider the following:

  • Eat sustainably. Buy organic when possible and purchase seafood caught using sustainable fishing methods (Seafood Watch publishes handy guides to help you). Consider eating one plant-based meal per week.
  • Use your purchasing power to change corporate practices. Refuse goods packaged with too much plastic or produced by companies that pollute the planet. Some of my favorite alternatives, include:
  1. Bamboo utensils for to-go meals instead of single-use plastic. Use a refillable coffee mug for your designer coffee and skip the plastic cup/lid/stirrer.
  2. Bites Toothpaste Bits to refuse the plastic toothpaste tube, plastic dental floss box, and plastic toothbrush. Ask you dentist to stop giving out plastic toothbrushes.
  3. Etee reusable beeswax food wraps instead of plastic wrap.
  4. Who Gives a Crap sustainable toilet paper, paper towels, and tissues. They also donate 50% of their profits “to build toilets because we believe access to a safe, dignified loo is a basic human right.”
  5. Ten Tree for clothing made with sustainable materials. And for every item you purchase, Ten Tree plants ten trees.
  • Email corporations who continue to flaunt environmental guidelines. I have emails ready for Amazon and Target for unsustainable shipping practices that include loads of single-use plastic.
  • Research electric or hybrid vehicles as a family. What are the pluses and minuses of switching?
  • Take your political leaders to task at the local, state, and federal levels. Our health, clean air, clean water, and adequate food supplies start with a healthy ocean and sustainable habits.


CTB: You describe writing these books as “meeting the emotional need in me.” So now I’m intrigued. Is there a project you are dying to write about?

Patricia: One idea in particular tickles me, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, the time is not yet right. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future…


CTB: You’ve been amazing asset to children’s publishing. Do you have any books on the horizon we should keep an eye out for?

Patricia: I have a nonfiction picture book releasing in the fall of 2022 illustrated by Natasha Donovan. All I can say right now is that it’s a conservation story with a happy ending.

CTB: Thanks, Patricia, for taking time out to talk to us!

Win a FREE copy of “Planet Ocean.”

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Newman headshotPatricia Newman studied child development at Cornell University. While there, she also studied French, Italian and Childen’s Literature. Patricia’s books encourage readers to use their imaginations to solve real‑world problems and act on behalf of their communities. A Robert F. Sibert Honor recipient for Sea Otter Heroes, Her books have received starred reviews, Green Earth Book Awards, a Parents’ Choice Award, and Bank Street College’s Best Books honors. Patricia speaks at schools and conferences to share how children of any age can affect change.

To learn more about Patricia and her books, please visit You can follow her on Twitter @PatriciaNewman. Or on Facebook at


author christine Taylor-butlerYour host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT engineering nerd and author of Bathroom Science, Sacred Mountain: Everest, Genetics, and more than 70 other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram