Kate’s Kid Book Bash, a free event that brings together readers with children’s book authors and illustrators, makes its return Saturday after being on pause the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The book festival for kids and teens will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Kingsley Association in East Liberty.
The first bash was held in 2019 and was organized to celebrate the life of Kate Pohl Dopirak. The Pittsburgh-based children’s author died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a degenerative brain disorder, in 2018 at age 43. At the time of her death, Dopirak was making a name for herself in the children’s publishing industry and was also known for mentoring other writers and illustrators in the Western Pennsylvania chapter of the international Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
“Kate was super talented, super funny and smart, and she took a lot of people under her wing,” said Betsy Fitzpatrick, children’s book writer and co-director with Leah Pileggi of Kate’s Kid Book Bash. Fitzpatrick and Pileggi are both members of the local SCBWI.
Shortly after Dopirak’s death, SCBWI members wanted to create an event that would honor her and her efforts to assist others in her profession. In 2019, Kate’s Kid Book Bash was born. The festival brought together “all the things she loved: books, kids and all the writers she helped,” Fitzpatrick said. It inspires kids to read by giving them access to books and access to writers. That’s especially important today, she added, when there’s so much technology that children get involved with.
About 22 writers and illustrators participated in that first festival, including Pittsburgh-based children’s book illustrator Stacy Innerst, who will be at Saturday’s bash as well.
The award-winning illustrator knew Dopirak very well through SCBWI, and he observed how helpful she was to those just starting out in children’s books. “She was a lovely human being. She made you feel better about yourself. She was generous, she was affirming, just a kind, kind person.”
He said the business is “brutally hard” for those just getting into it, and there is a lot of rejection. “She was a big cheerleader for everybody.”
Innerst has illustrated 13 picture books. The most recent is “The Sweetest Scoop,” about how Ben & Jerry’s ice cream came to be, published earlier this year.
He will join 25 other writers and illustrators scheduled to be at this year’s book bash. Also returning is renowned Pittsburgh author Sharon G. Flake, who wowed the publishing world in 1998 with her debut novel about race and bullying, “The Skin I’m In.” Its sequel, “The Life I’m In,” was published last year.
“She is the matriarch of young adult literature,” Fitzpatrick said. “Her first book was a juggernaut. And here she is writing in our back yard.”
The festival will also bring in authors from out of town who are new to the event. They include Pittsburgh native Kelly Starling Lyons; fantasy writer Cinda Williams Chima; author, filmmaker and Navajo Nation member Brian Young; and “Dragons in a Bag” series author Zetta Elliott.
In addition to attending the festival, Elliott donated a free virtual school visit that took place earlier this week with 300 kids at the Environmental Charter School.
This year’s bash will focus on children of refugee families living in the Pittsburgh area, said Fitzpatrick, working with Jewish Family and Community Services’ Bridge Builders program to raise money to buy books. People can purchase a copy of Jerry Craft’s graphic novel “New Kid” that will be given to a child of a refugee family. “New Kid,” winner of the Newbery Medal, Coretta Scott King Author Award and Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature, tells the story of a seventh grader struggling to fit in at a new school where he is one of the few students of color.
Over the summer, the festival organizers brought Craft to town to do a drawing workshop at Allegheny County’s East Liberty Family Center. The workshop fits in with the festival’s goal to impact kids throughout the year, said Fitzpatrick.
The book bash will include a Story Time Room, featuring a Spanish Story Time and a reading of Diporak’s fourth and last book, “Hurry Up! A Book About Slowing Down,” published posthumously in 2020.
Also on hand will be “Daniel, the Golden Retriever” author and trainer Tammy Tomlinson of Ligonier, who will sign copies of her book and have Daniel do some tricks.
Riverstone Books will hold a popup store where attendees can buy books for authors to sign.
“It’s a great holiday event. You can buy books for gifts and have them signed by the authors,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s a wonderful way to celebrate young adult and children’s literature.”
Karen is a copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike. Email her at email@example.com.