How Powell’s Bookstore Became a Bribe and a Reward

Last Nov, I posted a letter our 10yo wrote about coming home from school, super excited, and demanded to visit Powell's. I tagged Powell's with no expectations because I am a decent human who likes to give credit where credit is due and Powell's inspired that story. Next thing I know, Powell's has become a bribe AND a reward, and I ain't mad.

Last year, with the help of an amazing school aide, our 10-year-old finally fell in love with reading.

Well, reading something other than YouTube captions or in-game scripts.

One day last November, her aide told her all about the Powell’s bookstore in Downtown Portland to get our 10yr old excited.

About what? I’m not sure. I’m not even sure how or why the conversation happened. I just know that that aide sparked something in E that needed to be sparked.

Our 10yr old has struggled academically since kindergarten due to a number of diagnoses – sensory processing disorder, all the anxieties, all the ADHD’s, a communication disorder to top it all off, and all the cornerstones of Autisum but “because she doesn’t talk about any obsessions [bc she doesn’t have the communication skills to talk about obsessions] (different story, different day. Or maybe I’ve written about them before….) she cannot possibly have autism…”

Anyway, moving on.

To say school, and all that went with it – writing, reading, participating – was not her strong suit, would be an understatement.

Until this year, 5th grade, she spent 4 out of 5 school days in fight mode. That’s if she even attended.

But, as the aide told her about how big Powell’s bookstore in Portland was, how many books they had, and how many levels there were, I wholeheartedly believed that something had fundamentally changed in our 10yr old. That something finally clicked for her.

That day, she voluntarily practiced her new writing skills to not just write “leave me alone,” but to write a letter to show me after school.

Something trivial for most kiddos, but for our kiddo, this was huge.

She not only picked up a pencil and wrote a letter voluntarily, but she also used writing to speak up for herself and advocate for what she wanted.

“Powell’s Books – it is in Portland – I want to go to it”

At that point in November, I was on day 12 of posting my photos of the days on IG.

So, taking a photo of what I titled “A Kid’s Demand” and posting it, was a no-brainer.

After I overcame a momentary moment of mom-guilt because I, a writer and avid reader, never told our girls once about Powell’s, even though I loved Powell’s as a kid – the only thought I had was, OUR DAUGHTER WROTE AND ADVOCATED FOR HERSELF AHHHHHHH. Knowing me, along with my hugest smile, I probably even had a tear or two.

Side note: I can’t believe we, her parents, never told her about Powell’s. I loved Powell’s when I was her age. I have failed as a book lover. But it’s all good. Better late than never.

The farthest thing from my mind was Powell’s to see my post and reach out.

Of course, we would take her! Just needed to figure out a weekend day that we weren’t busy that was also after payday.

Besides, how could I say no to a 10yr old who is *hopefully* no longer afraid of writing AND wants to visit a bookstore instead of The Lego Store?

Hold up. Stop. Pause. Timeout.

We love the lego store. We are a lego friendly home. Nothing against legos. But we have a used book budget and according to our 10yr old, sets with less than our 200piece budget are “easy peasy.” Yes, I do know we have a lego snob. No, I don’t care. Legos have also played a HUGE and INTEGRAL part of her life. Legos are how she connects with her aides and teachers. Legos are how she expresses herself. Legos have a special space on her bed so she can play with them when she wakes up at 3am. Legos are not going ANYWHERE in our lives.

Thank you for coming to my Lego Talk.

Anyway, at that point in the year, I had read about 300 books and was on month 11 of dropping hints to my kids about what reading means to me and how it transports me to new worlds and experiences and understandings to hopefully get them interested in reading.

I stopped reading for pleasure for 20 years and I don’t want them to have the same regrets as me. Reading opens worlds that you could never have thought of or imagined.

But, I have not been able to figure out how to get that spark started in them. I haven’t been able to figure out the right combination to unlock their love of reading.

So, if she wanted to visit a bookstore, and Powell’s no less? Heck yeah! Let’s go.

I posted the photo of her demand the same day she brought it home and I tagged Powell’s with no expectations, as per my usual.

One of my non-negotiables is that I will always give credit where and when credit is due. So, I always make sure to tag the places and people that I include in my stories because they played a part in inspiring that story.

I do not tag 3rd parties just because or to receive anything in return. Period. I tag because credit was due.

Powell’s saw the tag and the demand, commented that “we’d love for you to visit!” and then reached out to me via DM – completely out of the blue.

“Hi there! We love the kid’s demand you shared. (“it’s in Portland and I want to go to it” should maybe be in the running for our new slogan?) If you’re comfortable sharing an address, we’d love to send our young friend a store map and some goodies to plan her future visit.”

Of course, I said YES! Just, after I scooped my jaw up off the floor first because I never expected a response like that. I am a teeny, tiny account whose only likes are from the same handful of people. Emphasis on handful.

But, that just proves that Powell’s is still the awe-inspiring bookstore that I remember as a kid. They care about the written word and they want everyone to have access to it.

Back when I was a kid, going to Powell’s was like going to Disneyland for me. All those stories just waiting for me to escape reality with.

Which is why I can’t believe I never told them about Powell’s.

Look, we aren’t a public library family either. Based on how many past due emails I get from the school library, and based on the fact that any library books would get destroyed in our home, or lost into the black hole for the socks to read as they sit on top of the Tupperware lids – library books and our family aren’t a good mix.

Don’t get me wrong, we do have an overcrowded bookshelf and in the Freebie Facebook Marketplace Hunt for a couple of new-to-us bookshelves. But those aren’t special to the kids. They aren’t their “own” books. They are just shelves full of books that have been handed down or inherited or random educational books.

Another mom-guilt moment that I will be rectifying ASAP. If I teach them nothing else, I want to teach them to love reading.

Moving on.

Due to life, and bookworms with a serious case of shiny book syndrome (coughPowellscoughMecough), while the conversation first happened at the beginning of November, we didn’t end up getting the goodies from Powell’s until right before Christmas.

No ill will or negative feelings due to the delay on either of our parts. Powell’s and I are just two very busy bookworms who needed some extra days.

It actually worked out better that their goodies didn’t come until they did, a few days before Christmas.

We ended up wrapping it and giving it to her for Christmas as her last and final present.

We did this for 2 reasons.

A) she asked about going to Powell’s every. single. day since she wrote that demand. Every. single. day. so we knew this was her “big wish come true” Christmas present this year.

and B) we wanted to get a video of her reaction because of reason A.

Her reaction didn’t disappoint. My videography on the other hand… let’s just say that I am finally OK with just sticking with still photography. Unless I go back to school, but that’s a whole other can of worms…

So, while I tell you how she reacted, just try and imagine a very excited kiddo whose biggest wish has come true.

As she looked at all the goodies Powell’s sent, she was ready to demand us to take her to Powell’s right then and there.

And if it wasn’t Christmas day, I would have jumped in the car, PJs, pieces of wrapping paper taped to me and all, and drove her there.

But, because our life is a series of never-dull moments, we had to rush to the ER across town just a few hours later as my 91 yr old Grandpa was nearing the end of his story, a story that did end 2 days later.

Life was a blur there for a few days. I was mostly numb, but oddly at peace.

But, the only thing that kept me grounded in the present at the time, was the fact that we finally set a date and a time and made a plan for when we would go to Powell’s.

It was going to be perfect. After moving the husband’s Grandma to a senior living home on New Years Eve, we would go to Powell’s because we would be in the area (A trip to Powell’s for us is something special because its not close to us), and I would get ALL the photos.

Of the 10yr old in front of the building, of her opening the door, of her looking at all the books, of her cruising the aisles. All little moments I wanted to be able to cherish forever.

I couldn’t wait to see our daughter’s face light up as she finally experienced Powell’s after she had been begging to go for almost 2 months STRAIGHT.

And, oh it was an experience all right.

In hindsight, we really shouldn’t have gone on New Year’s Eve. But she couldn’t wait another day, and we were in the area, and we actually had a few bucks in the bank.

It was time.

In hindsight, I completely forgot about our 10yr olds anxiety and sensory processing disorder because she had been doing SO well for SO long.

This happens about once every 6 months. Twice a year, it never fails that one of her storms smacks me across the head because I completely forgot to prepare her for and/or eliminate as many triggers as possible.

So what if we didn’t get the amazing photos of all the little moments?

She didn’t completely shut down. She saw all the things she wanted to see. She got to experience a Rare book room.

So what if we only spent 10 minutes in the store instead of the hour or two I had imagined and 5 of those minutes were just trying to find me because I got lost 3 times?

She chose two books that she holds near and dear (whether she has read them or not, I have no clue. Reading and then discussing reading are 2 completely separate milestones), and she immediately asked when the next time she could go would be the moment we got her out of that sensory overload environment.

And who cares if she didn’t smile in most of the photos? She was able to regulate herself without devolving into a Cat5 storm afterward because she was able to look at what she got from her first trip to Powell’s.

She ended up loving Powell’s. She wants to go again and again and again. I am pretty sure if it wasn’t crowded, she would find a corner and fall asleep surrounded by books in the “coolest bookstore ever”.

OH OH OH OH OH AND!!!! I now have a new thing to bribe *ahemREWARDahem* her with!!!!

Me: If you go to school every day next week, and on time, then you can get a book or a journal.


Me (secretly laughing like a villain bc I knew it): Sure

P.s. she picked 3 of the “I Survived” books on her 2nd trip. She freaking loves all things natural disasters. Obsessed, communication disorder be damned.

Anyway, unfortunately, while she flitted between floors, she couldn’t truly enjoy her first visit. There were a LOT of people. A LOT. And that’s poor planning on my end. Powell’s was perfect in all this.

She was just SO excited, I couldn’t keep putting off taking her. Especially after the death of her Papa.

With all that being said, she did pick out a couple of books that I honestly don’t think she has read yet. Mainly because they were both picks from left field, books I never expected her to pick.

No, that’s a lie. The one with the cat was a duh! because one of her cats is orange.

Back on track.

Once we got back to the car and her heart rate steadied as her brain came back online instead of in fight AND flight mode, my reader-mom heart exploded.

She couldn’t wait to go back. Just, hopefully, on a less busy day.

For 10 years, I have been worried about her academically and developmentally due to all of her diagnoses.

I am not going to lie, I still worry, and it still keeps me up at night because I can barely get her to school on a good day.

And if I can’t get her to school, and if I can’t homeschool (tried, failed) – will she ever graduate high school? Will she ever be able to get a job? Will she ever learn anything past 6th grade?

The mere thought of her attending middle school in 1.5 school years has me ready to vomit.

Our 10yr old is freaking smart and creative and curious, but school and she are like oil and vinegar and nobody has been able to find the thing the sparks her to want to learn.

Background: if she doesn’t want to do something, there is no way in hell will you be able to get her to do it. Just don’t even try. Everyone will be a lot happier if you just accept the fact that if she doesn’t want to do something, you will have to find a different way or not even try.

At the end of 4th grade, her school at the time decided she needed to attend a different school because they just didn’t have the resources to help our daughter.

I felt [redacted curse word] blindsided.

But, in the end, after talking to people and listening to what they truly said behind their words – we knew the new school would be the best option for her.

And, while I held on to her new reality for 2 months, keeping it a secret because I honestly didn’t know how she would respond, this new school has been the BEST thing to happen in her life, in our life.

I still have a little PTSD when the school calls, but it’s nothing that pulls me out of reality for more than a couple of seconds now.

Besides, had she stayed at her previous school, she never would have met her favorite aide who shared her love of Powell’s with our daughter.

Had we never agreed to send her to a new school, she never would have fallen in love with reading and demanded to go to a bookstore of all places.

And had she not gotten a fresh start at a school that HAS the resources to help her, she wouldn’t now be caught up to grade level in reading.

Math and all the other academics – not yet.

But reading – yeah, she’s a reading rockstar.

The universe works in mysterious ways.

I am just glad Powell’s reached out and helped this mom prove that it’s cool to love reading because of all the possibilities.

Especially all the bribing possibilities *ahemRewardOpportunitiesahem* that Powell’s has unlocked for our family.

Look, bribing and rewarding my kids works and I am a huge fan of doing the thing that works. If Powell’s works, then Powell’s will be used. Muwahahahahahahahaha. and I ain’t even a teeny bit mad OR care what people think.

Hey, Powell’s, here’s your new slogan:

Powell’s is in Portland and you want to go because its cool to love reading and Powell’s Bookstore has so many possibilities.


Powell’s Bookstores – a bribe AND a reward


“Powell’s is in Portland and you want to go to it because Powell’s Bookstore can be a bribe AND a reward.”

Have your people call my people.

In the meantime, Adventure on with Curiosity,

~Kelly Steele

My first ever IG Reel so be gentle:

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