Even a steady rain and a new venue couldn’t keep eager young readers, and their parents, away from Wordstock, Portland, Ore.’s annual book festival, held this year on November 7 in the Portland Art Museum. Along with a full day’s worth of programming for adults – this is the first year that the festival has been condensed from two days down to one – with speakers like Cheryl Strayed, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Jon Krakauer, Wordstock offered a full day of activities for young people of all ages. In the KinderCare Kids’ Area, a room devoted to sing-alongs, story-times, and interactive activities for small children in the morning and workshops for teens in the afternoon, the littlest literary fans got a treat when Portland’s own mayor Charlie Hales stopped by to say hello. Donning a paper bug hat to match the toddlers gathered around him for story time, Hales praised both the city and the festival for encouraging reading at all ages. “My wife, Nancy, and I raised five kids between us and we spent countless hours reading to our kids,” said Hales. “What’s wonderful about this room is we’ve got parents reading to kids. It’s one of the most wonderful things you can do for your kids and you remember it all those years later.”

Though the assembled group might be a little young for hobbits and orcs, Hales recounted how he read Tolkien’s trilogy aloud to all his kids, and also professed his love for local legend Beverly Cleary, who turns 100 next April. A card set up in the lobby outside the kids’ room quickly filled up with fans, both those who needed a boost up to the table and those who had read Cleary to kids and grandkids, scribbling birthday wishes to the creator of Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins. One mother told her daughter, who was trying to find space to sign, “You grew up on those books.” Another woman exclaimed that her “10-year-old daughter went as Ramona last Halloween!”

Teen readers, as well as adults who appreciate YA fiction, flocked to a panel featuring William Ritter (Jackaby), David Levithan (Another Day) and Michelle Tea (Girl at the Bottom of the Sea), all of whose novels flirt with realism and some element of the fantastic. Ritter, a high school English and mythology teacher in Oregon, explains that “there are other ways of thinking and mythology can teach us that if we’re willing to listen.” He also demonstrated his knack for reading his own work aloud in different voices, something he does with his own children. Levithan, whose work deals with gender identity issues, apologized to the audience for being “the asshole on his phone”: he had to buy a copy of his own book in order to have a passage to read during the panel. Tea, who explored her Polish roots when writing her Mermaid series, described Syrena, the titular mermaid as a “hard, harsh, awesome fish-lady.”

The Writers in the Schools program – in which local high school students work with a visiting writer on prose or poetry projects – debuted its anthology project and featured readings by students at one of the event’s more inspiring panels. The topics ranged from the harsh life experiences of a Somali refugee in America to the musings of a teen watching her familiar Portland neighborhood change before her eyes. When asked – by a teenager in the audience, no less – what advice they had for aspiring writers for creative advice, the budding young writers were wise beyond their years, cautioning, “Don’t compare yourself to other people while you’re writing because it will just get in your way,” and above all, “have fun with it. Don’t stress out about it.”