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 (www.achildrensplacebookstore.com).
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 it’s 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 Children’s 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 you’d 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.