Limestone native publishes her first children’s book

BANGOR and LIMESTONE, Maine — When Pam Oertel gazed out the back window of her Bangor home one autumn day, she saw leaves drift down the street and thought, “There must be a story there.”

Five years later, Oertel, a Limestone native, has turned that ordinary moment into her first book, a children’s story called “Lucy Leaf.” Released in May by Maine Authors Publishing, the book follows a maple tree leaf named Lucy from spring to fall, as she learns about the importance of trees from a wise leaf named Larry.

At the end of the book, Lucy and Larry change colors from green to bright orange and yellow. They fall from the maple tree and are blown down the street, like the leaves that inspired Oertel’s book.

“I found it very easy to write for children. It didn’t feel like work at all,” Oertel said. “It was fun imagining myself at the top of that tree and seeing everything from up there.”

Though Oertel has always enjoyed reading, she never considered writing a book until “Lucy Leaf.” After graduating from high school in 1969, Oertel worked in a variety of careers that included newspaper advertising, retail sales, restaurant service and office management, but none of them involved writing.

Oertel had recently retired when the idea for “Lucy Leaf” came to her. At first she wrote one paragraph and put away her work, but kept coming back to the idea. Once she returned to the story for good, Oertel finished in a few days and decided to try finding a publisher.

To bring her fictional leaves to life, Oertel collaborated with Brewer-based illustrator Elizabeth Overlock. She said she is amazed at Overlock’s ability to make Lucy and Larry appear lifelike, but with the vibrant colors of real maple leaves.

Oertel hopes that children who read “Lucy Leaf” gain an appreciation for trees and the role they play in the natural environment. In the book, Lucy learns how trees use their leaves to produce oxygen through photosynthesis, which helps sustain other forms of life, including humans.

“I was always outside playing as a child, but I think I took leaves for granted,” Oertel said. “So I thought that making the leaves [in the book] living, breathing things would appeal to children.”

Oertel recently began promoting “Lucy Leaf” at Maine craft fairs and hopes to host readings for children at Aroostook libraries this fall. She already plans to visit the Robert A. Frost Memorial Library in her hometown of Limestone.

Though Limestone did not directly influence “Lucy Leaf,” Oertel said that her Aroostook upbringing developed a strong work ethic that continued as she began writing.

“Like every young person [in Aroostook], I picked potatoes. When you’re in the field from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., you gain a really strong work ethic and respect from the people who work with you,” Oertel said. 

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