Taking kids to an official story time is akin to attending a Zumba class: If you have more rhythm than the instructor and the music doesn’t motivate your hips to Shakira-shake, it’s unlikely you’ll return. Similarly, if you think you’re a more entertaining reader to your kids or you don’t like the book being read, you’re probably not going to return to a story time. With this guide, Kidsburgh takes the guesswork out of which story times are worth the trip.
Listed below are places and times where you can take your little ones for free and educational fun.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Non-members welcome.
Setting: Outdoors between Memorial Day and Labor Day, weather dependent. During the rest of the year, the Tropical Forest Conservatory hosts story time. Each session lasts 30 minutes to an hour.
Strengths: Imagine a story time among the flowers. The books’ subject matter matches the setting: The reader “picks” tales about gardens, fruits, vegetables and animals; afterward, kids can make crafts. Bonus: Receive a free children’s book after attending six sessions. Caveat: Classes are often large so it’s not an optimal venue if you fancy an intimate setting.
Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Waterworks Mall
Saturdays from 11 to 11:45 a.m. Geared for toddlers, but all ages welcome.
Setting: Amanda Wagner, the regular reader, sits on the Winnie-the-Pooh stage. Benches are set up alongside it so kids can sit or color on them.
Strengths: Good art activities and fun promotional goodies. Wagner reads a sanctioned B&N book first and then one she chooses. The cool thing is that if you have toddler cousins in Wisconsin who go to their local B&N on a Saturday morning, you can compare notes because everyone reads the same book on the same date.
Mondays at 10:30 a.m. Aimed at preschoolers.
Setting: The children’s section in the back of the building. Each child gets a mat (a nice touch!), then sits on a bamboo floor surrounded by bookshelves.
Strengths: Stefanie Hohl, their reader! A mother of five, Hohl is pursuing her dream of writing children’s books while working on her Master of Education degree in children’s literature. Occasionally, the store offers special Saturday morning story times, when local picture book authors read their books, answer questions and sign copies of their work.
Oakmont Branch of the Carnegie Library
Mondays and Wednesdays from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. Infants to age 5 welcome for Book Buddies.
Setting: The building itself is a historic landmark in the picturesque hamlet of Oakmont. Story time takes place in a huge room in the basement, so spend some time looking at the decor and architectural details (like the entryway sculpture of a girl reading) before heading downstairs. This is not a “small crowd” place, as this location often attracts a 60-person bevy of parents and caretakers. Springtime often draws 80-100 attendees.
Strengths: “Book Buddies” is more than story time; sessions are multi-sensory and include free play, singing, circle time and a themed craft. Children are exposed to every style of learning here, by playing and developing social skills upon arrival, listening to a story, coloring, singing and dancing. Youth Services Librarian Karen Crowell is the regular reader but community professionals such as Oakmont Fire Department staffers and Giant Eagle bakery employees double as special guests in the spring.
Main Branch of the Carnegie Library
Thursdays from 11 a.m. to noon. Ages 3-5 preferred.
Setting: The nonfiction room in the children’s department on the first floor. In the winter, a group size averages 15-20; this doubles in good weather.
Strengths: This story hour for “preschool explorers” is actually an hour, and the 60 minutes go fast. Each week, Debbie El (“Miss Debbie”) chooses a theme (robots, snakes, farm animals), then incorporates song, movement and crafts in addition to storytelling. She uses a multicultural curriculum; kids learn how to say hello in many languages and may learn a song in Korean or Swahili. The structure is intended to prepare children for the kindergarten schedule.
What is most impressive is not only the multicultural bent of the songs and stories, but of the actual attendees themselves. It’s not unusual to meet parents from the Philippines, Australia, China and India on any given week.
The main branch is amazing in its breadth and depth of children’s programming, offered every day except Fridays. Chinese story time takes place on Thursday evenings.
Note: The Carnegie Library’s Mt. Lebanon branch offers ¡Hola Niños!, Spanish story time for children ages 3 to 6, and Bonjour les amis!, French story time for children ages 2 to 5.
South Side Branch of the Carnegie Library
Thursdays from 11 to 11:40 a.m. for Toddler and Preschool Tales.
Setting: Kids get a kick out of riding the elevator or climbing the stairs to the third floor, where story time takes place. It’s “their room” with huge bean bags to flop on.
Strengths: Cheryl Patalano, the dedicated children’s librarian, focuses on a theme (recent ones included “mittens,” “wind,” “ice cream” and “kindness”) for the books she chooses to read. Rarely crowded, the regulars are South Side parents eager to welcome new visitors. The kids spend 25 minutes reading, singing or watching videos and 15 minutes dedicated to crafts.
Beechview Branch of the Carnegie Library
Mondays from 10:30 to 11 a.m. for Baby & Toddlers Snugglebugs.
Mondays from 11:30 a.m. to noon for Preschooler Pals.
Setting: The downstairs meeting room next to the children’s section. Typically, you’ll find a dozen people in attendance.
Strengths: “Snugglebugs” listen to interactive rhymes, songs and stories. “Pals” focuses on rhymes and songs too, but also encourages making friends. Children’s Librarian Julie Moore integrates movement, song and the use of iPads during story time. The program emphasizes the single most important factor in helping your child read: reading together.
Hampton Community Library
Tuesdays from 6:30 to 7 p.m. Targets 3- to 5-year-olds.
Setting: The children’s section of the library.
Strengths: The rare, elusive evening hours. Also, Children’s Librarian Jennifer Nicol (“Miss Jen”), the regular reader, makes it fun and interactive. Family evening story time builds on the seven principles of early literacy. Registration is appreciated but not required.
Beyond these go-to spots for quality story time, the art of children’s storytelling thrives in unexpected corners throughout Pittsburgh. To celebrate Inclusive Innovation Week in Pittsburgh, The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh will offer Maker Story Time on April 4 and April 7, when librarians-turned-teaching artists will read books and share tools, processes and materials related to the stories. The museum also offers TOT SPOT: Tunes & Tales singing and storytelling on Mondays from 2 to 2:30 p.m. as part of its early childhood program. Hosted in the nursery, this toddler story time is included in museum admission.
The Mattress Factory intertwines story time with a hands-on collaborative project from 10 to 11 a.m. on the second and fourth Saturday of every month in its pop-up Mini Factory. And the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has curated a roster of engaging storytellers who will travel to local early childhood sites through its Story Corner programs.
No matter where you go, story time is a win-win for kids and parents alike. A few tips: When contemplating free kids’ activities, keep expectations low. You might assume that something labeled “story hour” would last an actual 60 minutes, but be forewarned: Most are under an hour. Luckily, you’ll be in a place with more books than your home and surrounded by like-minded caregivers, so you can easily turn story time into more reading or social time. And, if you find the weather or schedule off-putting, you can always borrow books via OverDrive, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s eContent for kids, with titles ranging from pre-kindergarten to grade 12 reading levels. Reading a book to a child on a computer, tablet or phone can mix things up a bit when boredom hits.
Phipps Conservatory (Oakland):
1 Schenley Dr.
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Waterworks Mall (Aspinwall):
926 Freeport Rd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15238
Penguin Bookshop (Sewickley):
417 Beaver St.
Sewickley, PA 15143
Oakmont Branch of the Carnegie Library:
700 Allegheny River Blvd.
Oakmont, PA 15139
Main Branch of the Carnegie Library (Oakland):
4400 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Mt. Lebanon Branch of the Carnegie Library:
16 Castle Shannon Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15228
South Side Branch of the Carnegie Library:
2205 East Carson St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15203
Beechview Branch of the Carnegie Library:
1910 Broadway Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Hampton Community Library
3101 McCully Rd.
Allison Park, PA 15101
Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
10 Children’s Way
Allegheny Square, PA 15212
500 Sampsonia Way
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
803 Liberty Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
OverDrive, CLP’s eContent
Use the “text difficulty” filter to browse the different reading levels. You’ll need a library card to check eBooks out.
Know of a beloved book time that we missed? Share your story in the comments below.