Greater Pittsburgh Festival of Books

The Greater Pittsburgh Festival of Books, with kid-centric events, is coming soon

Photo above by Eliott Reyna used by permission via Unsplash.

The second annual Greater Pittsburgh Festival of Books (GPFB) is almost here. This free event, happening on Saturday, May 13, on the campus of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in East Liberty, will include an expanded roster of programming designed for kids and families.

“All the children’s programming this year — it’s mind-blowing, It’s really exciting stuff,” gushes Marshall Cohen, founder of the festival.

Cohen, a Pittsburgh native who moved back to the Steel City in 2018 to enjoy his retirement, couldn’t help noticing the lack of a community-wide celebration of books. For a town that regularly ranks high on lists of the most literate cities in America, that was surprising to him.

He quickly got to work, organizing the right team to make his dream a reality. The Greater Pittsburgh Festival of Books debuted last year.

This year, Cohen says, “we set out to do bigger and better.” In particular, he wanted to expand the programming aimed at children and families.

Enter Helen Campbell, owner of Stories Like Me, a children’s bookstore which opened in Greenfield last year. Stories Like Me aims to “be the most comprehensive resource for diverse, accessible and empowering children’s literature.” That dovetails perfectly with Cohen’s vision for the festival.

“The name of the store captures it all, ” says Cohen, “so kids and parents and families can see stories like themselves.”

The guiding theme for children’s programming this year: Making Reading Three Dimensional.

“I really love the idea of bringing stories to life,” says Campbell. “With each of our activities and authors, we’re looking at how we can make this something that will really engage all the senses of the kids.”

Among the immersive activities planned for the festival:

  • Author Sara Shepard, whose book series “Pretty Little Liars” was turned into a popular television series, will discuss her recent graphic novel for young readers “Penny Draws a Best Friend.” Staff from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh will be on hand to teach the kids how to make their own graphic novel.
  • Zookeeper Heather Berkey, along with a few animal friends, will join author Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan to talk about her book “Animal Allies: 15 Amazing Women in Wildlife Research.”
  • Members of the Pittsburgh Ballet will be performing the classic “Sleeping Beauty” and inviting the audience to join in for the Dance of the Bluebirds.
  • The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will be presenting storytimes,
  • Duolingo will be demonstrate the company’s “learning to read” app.
  • There will be creative writing workshops for middle-grade and teen students.
  • And be sure to check out the poetry tent for a reading by Danielle Obisie-Orlu, 2021-2022 Youth Poet Laureate of Allegheny County.

And that’s only a small taste of what the Greater Pittsburgh Festival of Books will offer.

“Marshall reached out to me after last year’s festival,” says Campbell, “asking for my feedback and wanting a conversation about what we could do better this year, so I invited him to the store. We had a candid conversation, and I shared my hopes for this year. I could see that there was a need for someone to pull things together on the children’s side so I volunteered to take that on.”

Reflecting on his and the festival’s journey, Marshall Cohen says, “Who am I? I’m just a guy who reads books. But I started reading books when a librarian gave me a book in the sixth grade and I’ve never put a book down since.”

Cohen’s hope is that the festival fosters a personal connection between young readers and books. More and more the news headlines are about books getting banned, books getting removed from library shelves, and school curriculums getting challenged for inclusivity and representing a wider range of American experiences.

The Greater Pittsburgh Festival of Books and bookshops like Stories Like Me are a necessary corrective to intolerance, narrow-mindedness, and ignorance.

“I’ve been reading for 70 years because somebody put a book in my hand, ” attests Cohen. “We have a line-up that will meet all ages and all kinds of interests,” adds Campbell, “Bring the whole family!”

Click here for more information and to register in advance for free events and panels.