Last October I attended my first Highlights Foundation Writing Workshop.  I say ‘my first’ because it was such a wonderful experience that, one day, I plan to make it back there again.

Many of you know Highlights Magazine from reading it yourself as kids or sharing it with your own children now as parents. This workshop took place at a rustic retreat center in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, just outside of the little town where the Highlights office is located. In fact, the retreat property is the former home of the founders of the magazine. Each year the Highlights Foundation holds workshops on a range of topics for children’s literature writers, illustrators and other professionals.  

As you may know, I LOVE picture books – especially biographies. One of the manuscripts I’m working on is a biography so one day last year in early fall when I saw an email come about Telling it True: The Art of Storytelling in Picture Book Biography and Narrative Nonfiction, it felt like the universe might be trying to tell me something. Could I make it work? Would it be possible to attend? Everything fell into place and, soon, I was registered and super excited to attend.

Beautiful views at the Highlights Foundation Retreat Center

Beautiful views at the Highlights Foundation Retreat Center

The retreat center was about a 6.5 hour drive for me coming from Pittsburgh. What can I say? Pennsylvania is a big state. But I like a good road trip and it was a beautiful day to travel. I knew I was getting close when my views became farmhouses, rolling hills, horses and cows. The location is rural and I loved it immediately.

I spent some time in this rocking chair while attending the Highlights Workshop.

I spent some time in this rocking chair while attending the Highlights Workshop.

I checked in at the Barn, which is the center of activity when you attend a workshop – it’s where the three homecooked meals are served for you each day as well as where most workshop sessions take place. There’s also a quiet loft area for reading and writing.

After settling into my room at the Lodge, I walked over to the Barn for a happy hour before dinner. At this point, I saw a sea of new faces. I admit, I was both nervous and excited but so was everyone else, I’m sure. And by the end of the weekend, all those new faces had become good writing friends.

These are my fellow Highlights Workshop attendees and I'm so happy we met.

These are my fellow Highlights Workshop attendees and I’m so happy we met.

Over the course of the weekend, we attended lectures from in person faculty members, including authors Leda Schubert, Tod Olson and Carole Boston Weatherford. We learned about the publishing industry from Lee and Low Books editor, Kandace Coston. Via Skype lecture, we got to hear about the research and writing processes of authors, Steve Sheinkin and M.T. Anderson.  The workshop also included critique roundtables where we got feedback on our own nonfiction manuscript. This was very helpful – and, after I got feedback on my manuscript, I spent that night revising and reworking my beginning. It’s so much better now. As attendees, we were able to talk one on one with faculty members and get answers to all of our questions. I definitely left wiser and more confident as a writer.

We got signed books from the Highlights Workshop faculty members. I took this book from Tod Olson's LOST series back to my son and he loved it.

We got signed books from the Highlights Workshop faculty members. I took this book from Tod Olson’s LOST series back to my son and he loved it.

When we weren’t learning about all things children’s literature, we had time for ourselves to write and explore the trails around the retreat center. These times, along with group meals, were some of my favorite times because I got to talk with my fellow attendees.

We went hiking through the woods surrounding the Highlights Foundation campus.

We went hiking through the woods surrounding the Highlights Foundation campus.

We hiked to Calkins Cemetery where the original founders of Highlights are buried. We got lost but we found our way eventually.

We hiked to Calkins Cemetery where the original founders of Highlights are buried. We got lost but we found our way eventually.

We talked and laughed together on the patio after the delicious meals prepared for us at the Highlights Workshop.

We talked and laughed together on the patio after the delicious meals prepared for us at the Highlights Workshop.

On Sunday afternoon after lunch, it was time to get in the car and drive back across the state. I couldn’t wait to see my husband and my kids but the time spent working on my writing was worthwhile. I felt good knowing that this Highlights Workshop experience and the friends I made along the way would stay with me always.


This Little Free Library is located on the Highlights Foundation campus.

This Little Free Library is located on the Highlights Foundation campus.

It’s January – a fresh start to a new year. And while resolutions may not be your thing, having a guide for the direction you want to go is not a terrible idea. Of course there are way more things on my list but here are 9 of them for 2019: 

Exercise every day, even during the winter.

This often means indoor machines, classes or videos and I’m much more of an outdoor exercise person but I have devised a pairing to help me achieve my goal: watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine when I exercise inside. I’ve been binge-watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine when I have little pockets of time (it’s hilarious, highly recommend) and now those pockets of time will need to be active. (Thanks to Gretchen Rubin for the pairing idea. She knows a LOT about creating habits.)

Watch more Jimmy Stewart movies.

Random, I know. But after watching a few of his movies and reading up on him – I’m a big fan. Plus, he was born about two hours from Pittsburgh in Indiana, Pennsylvania and the Jimmy Stewart Museum is there so…road trip!  

Dance more.

Take a class, go dancing with friends or just dance more at home. It makes me happy and it needs to be in my life more.

Eat at 6 Pittsburgh Restaurants I haven’t been to yet.

There are many terrific Pittsburgh restaurants that I haven’t eaten at yet but I’m going to start with these: Bonfire, Jozsa Corner, Superior Motors, The Vandal, Twelve Whiskey Barbeque, and Gaucho Parrilla Argentina.

Clear out things I can’t wear and/or don’t need anymore.

If you’re local to Pittsburgh, here’s a good article by The Incline for where to donate most anything.

Submit the manuscript I took to the Highlights Foundation workshop in October.

I attended the most fabulous workshop at Highlights Foundation last fall. I took one of the manuscripts I’ve been working on and got some helpful feedback and a sparkling new beginning to the book. But I am stuck with how to move forward. I will keep with it, though, because I want this story out in the world.

Stretch out of my comfort zone with my writing.

I used to do a lot of freelance writing and I’m not wanting to go back there fully but some of the pieces I’ve written work better in magazines than books so I’m going to submit more to those kinds of places. Already submitted one thing last week! Also, I entered a short story contest – WHAT? Yes. Stay tuned.

Connect with people IRL more.

Social media and texting have their benefits but there is nothing like spending time with someone or having a conversation where you can hear each other actually laugh, not just LOL. So, this year I’m going to make an extra special effort to set up coffee dates, get-togethers, and phone calls.

Be kind – always try to be kind.

Be the kind kid, be the kind adult, just be kind.

Be the kind kid, be the kind adult, just be kind.

Thanks for reading! What are some of your resolutions for 2019?

Erin Entrada Kelly, children’s author and 2018 Newbery Medal winner, was in Pittsburgh on Sunday for the Words and Pictures lecture series. She kept me laughing throughout her talk. With humor and honesty, she spoke about her childhood and her writing process. Oh, and, exactly what it felt like to win the Newbery Medal for her middle grade novel, Hello, Universe.

Erin Entrada Kelly, photo credit: Words and Pictures Lecture Series

Erin Entrada Kelly, photo credit: Words and Pictures Lecture Series

My takeaways from Erin Entrada Kelly’s talk:

She does her best thinking when she’s driving. I often do, too. I took a writing webinar a couple of weeks ago that echoed this idea that sometimes our most creative moments can happen when our brain is busy with other things that don’t require creativity. Things like driving, showering, cleaning around the house. Does this happen to you?

All her books start by filling up a notebook with ideas and writing longhand. She prefers this sensory experience – the scent of her pen, the tactile feeling of putting pen to paper. Writing initially on a computer feels impersonal to her. 

She loved reading and writing as a kid, dreaming that one day she might become an author. Dreams can come true!

She loves palindromes, words that are spelled the same forward and backward. Tacocat!

She hopes we keep hold of our sense of wonder about the world. The power of imagination can inspire us and get us through hard times. Also, treat kids with respect, ask their opinions on things and don’t make their experiences seem unimportant. Sounds to me like she’s got the perfect attitude for an author who writes for children.


To learn more about Erin Entrada Kelly, visit:


Thanks for reading!


I woke up today with a bit of extra excitement because I get to open the first story in my Short Story Advent Calendar. It’s December 1st – and there’s a thrill in counting down to Christmas, even for adults. The chocolate candy calendars are great but give me books and short stories any day.

I discovered this Hingston & Olsen gem through the lovely City Books, Pittsburgh’s oldest used bookstore. Besides a carefully curated used book selection, the bookstore offers some new books (like the short story calendar), various events, a subscription box and a fascinating arts and literature tour. I took the tour in October and it was a wonderful experience – highly recommend.

I picked up my advent calendar on Tuesday from City Books and resisted the urge to break it open until today. The packaging is a work of art.  The collection includes stories from eight different countries. What a joy to open up the sealed booklets each day. And I discovered that after you read the story, you can pop over to the calendar website and read an interview with the author. Super cool.

I cuddled up and read the first story with my tween daughter and we both loved it.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year to you all – and Happy Reading!




Pittsburgh (and its surrounding area) has inspired some very famous people through the years. This picture book reading list will help you introduce your kids to 7 women and 7 men who have called Pittsburgh home. Happy learning!


Josh Gibson

Just Like Josh GibsonBook description: “The story goes…Grandmama could hit the ball a mile, catch anything that was thrown, and do everything else — just like Josh Gibson. But unfortunately, no matter how well a girl growing up in the 1940s played the game of baseball, she would have faced tremendous challenges. These challenges are not unlike those met by the legendary Josh Gibson, arguably the best Negro-League player to never make it into the majors. In a poignant tribute to anyone who’s had a dream deferred, two-time Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Angela Johnson and celebrated artist Beth Peck offer up this reminder — that the small steps made by each of us inspire us all.” from IndieBound

Honus Wagner

All Star Honus Wagner

Book description: “The Honus Wagner baseball card is the most valuable baseball card of all time But he was born poor, ugly, bow-legged, and more suited to shoveling coal in his Pennsylvania mining town than becoming the greatest shortstop of all time. How could it happen? Did those strong arms and fast legs turn him into a Pittsburgh Pirate and one of the game’s most unforgettable players? In this true story, Jane Yolen shows us that wit, talent, perseverance, and passion score more than home runs. As Honus would say, ‘How about that?'” from Amazon

Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente

Book description: “On an island called Puerto Rico, there lived a little boy who wanted only to play baseball. Although he had no money, Roberto Clemente practiced and practiced until–eventually–he made it to the Major Leagues. America As a right-fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he fought tough opponents–and even tougher racism–but with his unreal catches and swift feet, he earned his nickname, “The Great One.” He led the Pirates to two World Series, hit 3,000 hits, and was the first Latino to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just baseball that made Clemente legendary–he was was also a humanitarian dedicated to improving the lives of others.” from IndieBound


Mary Cassatt

Mary CassattBook description: “Mary Cassatt was a headstrong, determined girl. She wanted to be an artist in 1860, a time when proper girls certainly weren’t artists. It wasn’t polite. But Mary herself wasn’t polite. She pursued art with a passion, moving to Paris to study, painting what she saw. Her work was rejected by the Salon judges time and time again. One day, the great painter Edgar Degas invited her to join him and his group of independent artists, those who flouted the rules and painted as they pleased–the Impressionists. Mary was on her way. “I began to live,” said Mary. Today, her paintings hang in museums around the world and she is recognized as one of the most celebrated female artists of all time.” from IndieBound

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol
Book description: “Andy Warhol was leader of the American art movement known as Pop, short for “popular culture. He changed the way we think of art. Assisted by photographs taken of Warhol throughout his life, and examples of his early drawings and best-known works, Susan Goldman Rubin traces his rise from poverty to wealth, and from obscurity to fame. ” from Amazon


Romare Bearden

Romare BeardenBook description: “As a young boy growing up in North Carolina, Romare Bearden listened to his great-grandmother’s Cherokee stories and heard the whistle of the train that took his people to the North–people who wanted to be free. When Romare boarded that same train, he watched out the window as the world whizzed by. Later he captured those scenes in a famous painting, Watching the Good Trains Go By. Using that painting as inspiration and creating a text influenced by the jazz that Bearden loved, Jeanne Walker Harvey describes the patchwork of daily southern life that Romare saw out the train’s window and the story of his arrival in shimmering New York City. Artists and critics today praise Bearden’s collages for their visual metaphors honoring his past, African American culture, and the human experience. Elizabeth Zunon’s illustrations of painted scenes blended with collage are a stirring tribute to a remarkable artist.” from IndieBound


Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein
Book description: “In a story inspired by the oh-so-modern groundbreaking writing of Gertrude herself, not a lot makes sense. Even so, the oh-so-popular author Jonah Winter, and the ever-so-popular illustrator Calef Brown, and the most popular poodle of all time, Basket, invite you to enter the whimsical world of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.” from Amazon


Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly

Book description: “Born in 1864, during a time in which options were extremely limited for women, Nellie defied all expectations and became a famous newspaper correspondent. Her daring exploits included committing herself to an infamous insane asylum in New York City to expose the terrible conditions there and becoming the first American war correspondent of either sex to report on the front lines of Austria during World War I. In 1889, Nellie completed her most publicized stunt, her world-famous trip around the world in just 72 days, beating the record of Jules Vernes’ fictional hero in Around the World in 80 Days.” from Amazon

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson

Book description: “In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring, here is a biography of the pioneering environmentalist. “Once you are aware of the wonder and beauty of earth, you will want to learn about it,” wrote Rachel Carson. She wrote Silent Spring, the book that woke people up to the harmful impact humans were having on our planet. Silent Spring was first published in 1962.” from Amazon



Martha Graham

Martha Graham

Book description:”A picture book about the making of Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring, her most famous dance performance. Award-winning authors Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan tell the story behind the scenes of the collaboration that created APPALACHIAN SPRING, from its inception through the score’s composition to Martha’s intense rehearsal process. The authors’ collaborator is two-time Sibert Honor winner Brian Floca, whose vivid watercolors bring both the process and the performance to life.” from IndieBound


Billy Strayhorn

Billy StrayhornBook description: “It’s a challenge to transform the “Nutcracker Suite’s” romantic orchestra into jumpin’ jazz melodies, but that’s exactly what Duke Ellington and his collaborator, Billy Strayhorn, did. Ellington’s band memebers were not so sure that a classical ballet could become a cool-cat jazz number. But Duke and Billy, inspired by their travels and by musical styles past and present, infused the composition with Vegas glitz, Hollywood glamour, and even a little New York jazz. CD recording of the Ellington/Strayhorn composition included.” from Amazon

Mary Lou Williams

Mary Lou WilliamsBook description: “What if you loved music more than anything? Suppose you had just learned to play the piano. Imagine that your family has to move to a new city and you have to leave your piano behind. People don t like you in the new city because of what you look like. How will you make yourself feel better? Mary Lou Williams, like Mozart, began playing the piano when she was four; at eight she became a professional musician. She wrote and arranged music for Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and was one of the most powerful women in jazz. This is the story of Mary Lou’s childhood in Pittsburgh, where she played the piano for anyone who would listen.” from Amazon


Labor and Industry

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew CarnegieBook description: “When he was a child in the 1840s, Andrew Carnegie and his family immigrated to America in search of a new beginning. His working-class Scottish family arrived at the height of the Industrial Revolution. Carnegie worked hard, in factories and telegraphy. He invested in railroads, eventually becoming the richest man in the world during his time. Carnegie believed strongly in sharing his wealth, and one of the ways he did this was by funding the construction of over 2,500 public libraries around the world. His philanthropy completely revolutionized public libraries, which weren’t widespread at the time. Told in simple, lyrical text, the story unfolds against striking, stylized illustrations that transport readers to the bustle and boom of the Industrial Revolution. An informational spread explains more about Carnegie’s life and work.” from IndieBound

Fannie Sellins

Fannie SellinsBook description:”Fannie Sellins (1872-1919) lived during the Gilded Age of American Industrialization, when the Carnegies and Morgans wore jewels while their laborers wore rags. Fannie dreamed that America could achieve its ideals of equality and justice for all, and she sacrificed her life to help that dream come true. Fannie became a union activist, helping to create St. Louis, Missouri, Local 67 of the United Garment Workers of America. She traveled the nation and eventually gave her life, calling for fair wages and decent working and living conditions for workers in both the garment and mining industries. Her accomplishments live on today.” from IndieBound


Thanks for reading!

Famous Pittsburghers Collage

My husband got me some beautiful yellow and red roses for my birthday recently and put them in little vases all throughout the house. As a result, I’ve been “stopping-to-smell-the-roses” a lot more and I’ve been taking photos of them and just, you know, noticing how amazing nature is. 

And because I also like math, I couldn’t help but notice the spirals in the roses and that made me think of the Fibonacci Sequence. Just look at these gorgeous spirals.

Roses Spirals Fibonacci

Do you remember the Fibonacci Sequence? 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, etc…

If you don’t, no worries, here’s a refresher that can also serve as an introduction for your kids.

Lastly, because I love books I thought, “I wonder how many Fibonacci picture books are out there?” Now, I knew there was at least one because the kids and I have read the first one in this list before. Turns out there are a few more!

I hope you enjoy this list of Fibonacci picture books. Nature + Math + Picture Books = Fun Learning

Blockhead Fibonacci Book


“As a young boy in medieval Italy, Leonardo Fibonacci thought about numbers day and night. He was such a daydreamer that people called him a blockhead. When Leonardo grew up and traveled the world, he was inspired by the numbers used in different countries. Then he realized that many things in nature, from the number of petals on a flower to the spiral of a nautilus shell, seem to follow a certain pattern. The boy who was once teased for being a blockhead had discovered what came to be known as the Fibonacci Sequence. Blockhead is a 2011 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year.” (from

Fibonacci Zoo


“When Eli and his father visit an unusual zoo, they count the creatures in each exhibit. Eli sees one alligator, then one bison, and next two camels. Soon a number pattern emerges and Eli thinks he can predict how many animals will be in the next exhibit. Explore the zoo with Eli as he runs ahead to test his hypothesis.” (from

Wild Fibonacci


“1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34. . . Look carefully. Do you see the pattern? Each number above is the sum of the two numbers before it. Though most of us are unfamiliar with it, this numerical series, called the Fibonacci sequence, is part of a code that can be found everywhere in nature. Count the petals on a flower or the peas in a peapod. The numbers are all part of the Fibonacci sequence. In Wild Fibonacci, readers will discover this mysterious code in a special shape called an equiangular spiral. Why so special? It mysteriously appears in the natural world: a sundial shell curves to fit the spiral. So does a parrot’s beak. . . a hawk’s talon. . . a ram’s horn. . . even our own human teeth Joy Hulme provides a clear and accessible introduction to the Fibonacci sequence and its presence in the animal world.” (from

The Rabbit Problem Fibonacci


“How does 1+1 = 288? A family of rabbits soon supplies the answer in this funny story Hop along to Fibonacci’s Field and follow Lonely and Chalk Rabbit through a year as they try to cope with their fast expanding brood and handle a different seasonal challenge each month, from the cold of February to the wet of April and the heat of July. This extraordinary picture book is packed with gorgeous details and novelty elements including a baby rabbit record book, a carrot recipe book and a surprise pop-up ending.” (from

Rabbits Everywhere Fibonacci


“Each week the residents of Chee take a portion of their bountiful crops to the wizard who lives on the hill. One week the Pied Piper decides that the wizard doesn’t deserve his full portion. The next day two rabbits appear in a field. The day after that, there are two more rabbits. Each day the number of rabbits increases and they are eating everything in their path. It is up to a young girl named Amanda to save Chee’s crops by figuring out the pattern by which the rabbits multiply.” (from

Thanks for reading!

Yesterday, I snuck away to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens so I could “stop and smell the roses” so to speak. It was just what I needed to see the beautiful flowers, feel the sun on my face, and watch the butterflies happily flying to and fro. Phipps was in the process of preparing for its new summer show, Gardens of Sound and Motion. We got some sneak peeks of that but I can’t wait to go back to see the show in all its glory. In the meantime, here were some of my favorite things from this visit.

Biltmore Ballgown flower at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

What does this look like to you? At first I saw a chandelier but after seeing its name, I see a dress. It’s called the “Biltmore Ballgown” – love!

Lady's Slipper flower at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

A lovely Lady’s Slipper orchid, part of the larger Slipper Orchid Collection that Phipps is growing along with the Orchid Society of Western Pennsylvania.

Insect Inn at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

The Insect Inn – what an inviting place for insects to stop in and stay awhile.

Nature Play Garden structure at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

This little structure was built by a couple of kids in the Nature Play Garden.

Golden Shrimp Plant at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

The Golden Shrimp Plant from Peru.

Thanks for coming along – it was just like you were there!

In case you didn’t know, the video below is a snapshot of spring in Pittsburgh this year:

Happy Sprinter from Pittsburgh!

A post shared by Mandy Yokim (@mandyyokim) on

Now, I love winter but a person needs some sunshine on her face by the end of March…so we escaped and went to New Orleans for spring break. And the weather was perfectly warm and sunny down there, except for one day. Thanks, Big Easy.

One of the stops I had to make was Faulkner House Books, a charming bookstore tucked on a narrow alley in the French Quarter. With a spot on several ‘bookstores-not-to-miss’ lists, people come from all over the world to stand in the space where American author William Faulkner wrote his first published novel, Soldiers’ Pay. The bookstore is small and cozy with books lining shelves from the floor to the ceiling.

While I didn’t see a copy of Faulkner’s only children’s book, The Wishing Tree, it may very well have been there in the rare books cabinet. 

Faulkner House Books sign

The sign that welcomes you into Faulkner House Books.


Inside view Faulkner House Books

Couldn’t you just find a cozy chair and sit here for awhile at Faulkner House Books?


Maximum Occupancy 12 sign

I did say it was small, right? Maximum occupancy is just 12 at Faulkner House Books.


Thinking of Home Book

I bought this book at Faulkner House Books along with a beautiful edition of The Hobbit for my girl.


It was ‘just like you were there’!

Thanks for reading!

Happy National Library Week 2018!

Flash back to my childhood in a school library, using a card catalog to find books. Using a microfiche reader, for goodness sakes. Even then I loved libraries. I liked that what-seemed-like tons of information was located in one place ready to be discovered. And I remember my school librarians, Mrs. Dameron and Mrs. Cunningham – ready to answer any questions and help me find what I needed. 

Flash forward to more recent years when I’ve used the library for things beyond books and information gathering. Things that help you feel like part of a community: storytimes for my kids, genealogy workshops, storytelling festivals, cooking classes and more. 

Libraries have come a long way in this modern tech era but, at their heart, they still serve many of the same purposes: to help us learn, grow and feel like we belong. 

With this new library blog series, I plan to highlight all kinds of libraries and sometimes the librarians who work in them. Some posts will be short and sweet, some will include more in depth interviews or videos. Let’s get started with this post which incorporates another thing I love – stamps.

American Philatelic Research LibraryAPRL Logo Small (003)

Meet Scott Tiffney, Librarian and Director of Information Services at the American Philatelic Research Library (APRL) in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. Scott served as Reference Assistant for five years before entering into his current role in January of this year. He was kind enough to answer my questions and give us an idea of the work he does and how he got to this place, surrounded by all things stamps.

Scott Tiffney, Librarian and Director of Information Resources at APRL.

Scott Tiffney, Librarian and Director of Information Resources at APRL.

Q: In your role as librarian at APRL, what are your responsibilities?

A: My primary role and that of the library is to fulfill the research needs and goals of the American Philatelic Society (APS) and its members. In light of that as the librarian I am responsible for collection development, digital projects, staff supervision and the general day-to-day management of every aspect of the library. There is also a significant component of my responsibilities that involves outreach to our members as well as non-members and the stamp collecting community in general as the research arm of the APS. [Scott also blogs about stamp literature and research here.]

Q: Which of these things do you find is your favorite?

A: Right now I can narrow my favorite down to two of these responsibilities. I really enjoy working and communicating with people on a daily basis. I’ve been blessed with a very enthusiastic and talented staff here in the library who make my job much easier and are a genuine pleasure to work with each day. Similarly, the outreach I am responsible for has put me in contact with many people in the stamp collecting community, both members and non-members, who have made my work here very fulfilling and rewarding. The other responsibility I’m beginning to enjoy as a favorite is the work we are doing on the library’s digital projects. My predecessor initiated the digital projects we have here in the library with the goal of having more of our collection available in digital form on our website. It has been both a joy to educate myself on these projects as well as to work with the people we have assisting us with our digital presence.

Q: Did you always want to be a librarian? How did your life/career path bring you to this position?

A: If I’m really honest, no I didn’t. I initially wanted to be a journalist because of how much I enjoyed doing research. From an early age my brain was just wired to always ask questions about things, even concerning things that had long been accepted as truth. I always wanted to ask questions and challenge things. From a very early age libraries and their unique collections always provided a sanctuary for me, if you will, for answering some of those questions through research. In many cases they could provide some answers, but even when they didn’t, the opportunity to pursue those answers which libraries afforded me was a reward in and of itself. After I started down the path of journalism for a short while I found myself more and more interested in libraries as a place I envisioned spending a lot of time in or possibly working in one day. That thought led to a Masters degree in Library and Information Science and then to work as a reference librarian in a number of different libraries. My reference work here at the American Philatelic Research Library (APRL) then led to an extraordinary opportunity to become the library’s director, a position I have just started in and enjoy.

Q: Were you an avid book reader as a child? Were you always interested in stamps?

A: Our family read a lot at home and still do, and yes I read a lot as a child as I do now. As for stamps, I had an older brother who had a stamp collection but I did not have an interest in stamps until I began working here at the APRL.

First Floor APRL

First floor of the American Philatelic Research Library in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.

Q: Do you have a favorite type of library material? Favorite book genre? Favorite kind of stamp?

A: My favorite type of library material is still sitting down with a book. A physical book with its pages and content is both a sensory and textural experience for me which still requires the reader to be engaged in a form of unspoken communication with their thoughts and ideas while hopefully being educated. The digital world is the future but the permanence of a book somehow still resonants with me. My favorite book genre is probably fiction and poetry. In my younger days through my years of advanced education and even today I read a lot of British, Canadian, Russian and American poetry, novels and plays. As for a favorite stamp it would have to be the British Machins. There is something that appeals to me with a stamp that has had predominantly the same image on it for many years but has been produced in hundreds of different colors and varieties. For me it speaks to both tradition and creativity.

Q: What do you feel is the library’s most important function today? What functions have stayed the same over time?

A: Today the library’s primary role is to provide not only content but the means to that content in order to facilitate the education and research needs of its patrons. Over time libraries must continue to meet this need and make the access to the content as seamless as possible.   

Q: How do you envision libraries of the future?

A: The easy answer to this would be to provide more and more content in digital form so that patrons can access material remotely and more easily. Libraries will certainly involve a lot more digital content in the future, but even given this, the librarian will have an even more important role in being able to discover, disseminate and organize the relevant content for library patrons.  

Second floor APRL

Second Floor of the American Philatelic Research Library in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.

Q: If I could teleport you to any other library across the country or world, where would you visit?

A: Currently the British Library, the Library of Congress and the National Library of Canada (the latter of which I had the good fortune of doing an internship in) are all libraries I’ve been fortunate enough to visit and to do research in while there. But if I could teleport anywhere to any library it would definitely be the Library of Alexandria in ancient Egypt considered at one time to be the largest and most significant library in the world before it was destroyed. What treasures were lost then we’ll never know.

Q: Do you have any advice for library users – things you wish we would all know? 

A: I guess the one piece of advice I would give every library user, especially if visiting a library in person,  is always take the time to browse the collection and make use of the library staff. Even if you know exactly what you are looking for or have a specific book you are borrowing, take the time to look further you’ll never be disappointed with what you discover. Taken from experience, some of the most interesting things you’ll find in a library are found this way.  

Q: Would you recommend being a librarian to others?

A: Yes I would, and this comes from someone who never envisioned himself being one. My wife is a research librarian and she always wanted to be that and I now have a niece that’s just starting into the profession and she, like me, never saw it as her future. I can honestly say that I find something each day in the library that’s rewarding and challenging, making it a place that’s worth coming back to again. Libraries are more than just buildings with books in them, they are communities of discovery.

Thank you, Scott, for your insight!

Did you enjoy this first post in my Library Series? Is there a library you’d love to learn about, I’d love to know.


It’s that time of year – everything is all “last minute gifts” in your face and you may be starting to feel a teeny tiny bit caught up in all the anxiety. Never fear – I know you know that things you buy aren’t what is most important in life. You’ll stop to breathe and enjoy your family and friends, I know you will. Being stressed around the holidays isn’t fun for you or the people around you. So this gift list is the Anti-Last Minute Literary Gift List. All the gifts will likely be there after Christmas, too, when you really might want and need to cozy up with a good book or put down a few thoughts in a journal.

Here’s a short but sweet list of literary gifts, all created by some of the incredibly talented friends and acquaintances I’ve met here in the Pittsburgh area.   


Write in a journal

I met my friend Alexis here in Pittsburgh when we were both new moms doing storytimes and playdates with our baby girls. She is now on the other side of the state and our girls are so grown up. She designed the art for these cool journals. Make lists, plan things, write a story. The possibilities are endless.


Mark your place with an artsy bookmark

My friend Dawn made one of these metal, glass-beaded bookmarks for me and I always think of her when I use it. Bookmarks are good for making sure you don’t dog-ear pages in your books – the pages don’t like it. They told me so.


Light the room with a book-themed paper cut nightlight – Mary Poppins theme

I met Kathryn at a writer’s workshop and absolutely loved her work. She says the paper cutting takes a lot of time but, wow! – it’s worth it for this beautiful end product that shows a mystery design when the light is turned on.


Beep, beep! Pre-order this sweet book which is a play on the song, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Writer Kate Dopirak is the kindest person you’d ever meet. She has worked long and hard to earn her success and she is always super helpful and willing to share her knowledge and experience with other writers. I can’t wait for this adorable book to come out – yes, I’ve already pre-ordered it.


Burn a book-themed candle while you read

I don’t personally know the maker of these literary candles but I had to include them because they’re made here in Pittsburgh by a local mom and the scents are inspired by various books. This ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ candle is just one of the examples you’ll find – there’s also The Color Purple, The Great Gatsby, etc…I ordered one of these as a Christmas gift for a friend. Now I’m thinking I should’ve probably ordered one for myself, too.


Thanks for reading and happy gift giving!


The latest in my ‘Just like you were there’ series: a ride through the Fort Pitt Tunnel!

Driving through the Fort Pitt Tunnel into the city of Pittsburgh is a must-do when you visit. I remember my first time taking the drive and seeing the city appear at the end of the tunnel – it was magical and I’m sure I was like “Wow!” just like my son does at the end of this video below. And he’s seen the view already several times. It’s the experience that keeps on giving good feels especially at night with all the lights of the city. 

Here in this video, you can take the drive with me (while we listen to Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’) and experience a little bit of the fun virtually although doing it in person and getting a full left-to-right view of it all is highly recommended. 

Enjoy! And for more ‘Just like you were there’ posts, click here.

Just like you were there: riding in the car with me through the Fort Pitt Tunnel with the beautiful lights of Pittsburgh at the end. Bonus: Wham! Christmas music in the background. If you were with me, where would we be going? What would we be doing? You can't change the radio channel, though.

Posted by Mandy Yokim on Sunday, December 3, 2017

Picture book biographies are one of my favorite kinds of books. Children respond well to the learning that takes place while reading them because – picture books!

I went to the library this weekend and was super excited to get these 2017 picture books right as they were being shelved for the first time – so they are brand new this year and just making their way onto library shelves. Exciting! 

Here they are – 6 new picture books about fascinating women as architects, animators, singers, dancers, authors and activists. Enjoy!

The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter tells the story of Zaha Hadid, a girl born in Iraq, who is inspired by nature and patterns, eventually training to become an architect. Her designs aren’t initially accepted for various reasons, including that she is a woman, she is Muslim and her ideas are different than others. But Zaha doesn’t give up and now her buildings can be seen around the world. I love how this book highlights the tenacity of Zaha and her desire to design buildings how she chose and not how others told her they should be. The end of the book lists some more biographical info, along with key quotes and a listing of the famous buildings she designed in different countries. The text is sparse but powerful. My son’s recommendation? “That was a good book.”

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio tells the story of how Billie Holiday grew up having a rough childhood and how she experienced racism throughout her life even after she became a famous jazz singer. The book tells how she used her vocal talents to sing a song called Strange Fruit which was written to protest the treatment of blacks in the South. This book deals with heavy themes about racism, not shying away from the subject of lynching which is alluded to in the lyrics of the song. The focus of the story is on the power of using art to speak out against injustice. Biographical notes at the end of the book tell more about the song and Billie’s life, including mentioning the substance abuse issues that would cause her death at 44 years old.


Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker tells the story of author “Jinnee” Burton who wrote classic children’s books like The Little House (a Caldecott Medal Winner), Katy and the Big Snow and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. The book does a good job of showing that she wrote the books for her two sons who saw her illustrations and stories come to life as she worked. I liked how the book used lyrical text and illustrations to let the reader feel Jinnee’s creative process. I also liked seeing how her sons inspired her to write and that she worked alongside them, involving them so that they felt invested in the stories.

Danza!: Amala Hernandez and El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico by Duncan Tonatiuh tells the life story of Amalia Hernandez, from deciding she wanted to be a dancer to ultimately founding and running her own dance company that traveled the world. Amalia combined her training in ballet and modern dance with the folk dances of her home country to create innovative works that highlighted Mexico’s history and culture. The illustrations in the book are beautiful and the glossary at the end helps readers to understand many of the terms used in the book.


Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville is the story of Mary Blair, an artist who loved color but came of age in a black and white kind of world. She was one of the first women hired to work at Walt Disney Studios but her career also included work in advertising, children’s book illustrating, television and stage design. While her work did make it into some famous Disney movies like Alice in Wonderland, the book ends with a focus on her vision that culminated in the creation of the classic ride, It’s a Small World. I had never heard of Mary Blair and this picture book format was the perfect way to be introduced to her – a beautiful book with a strong message for readers to be true to themselves and their vision despite the naysayers they may meet along the way.

Dangerous Jane by Suzanne Slade tells the story of Jane Addams, from a young girl seeing people in need to her life as a woman helping hard-working families at Hull House in Chicago. The book also highlights her despair about World War I and her efforts in the Women’s Peace Party and the International Congress of Women. The “Dangerous” Jane nickname comes about after the war as she continues to help people from other countries, many accuse her of being a traitor. The book ends with Jane being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first American woman to win it. This book covers a lot of history while still keeping the theme of Jane’s desire to help others as the driving force of the all the content. The timeline at the end of the book lets readers see a progression of even more of Jane’s accomplishments not specifically addressed in the text.


Thanks for reading! Join me on Facebook and Twitter for more discussion about children’s books and reading/writing themed topics.  

Ever since my kids were little, I’ve taken them to Animal Friends to see all the cats, dogs and bunnies. As a non-profit animal resource center in Pittsburgh, Animal Friends rescues and shelters homeless companion animals and tries to find them adopted homes; it also offers all kinds of community education classes and events. The thing is, though – while we could always look in the cat rooms there (which were always so cute and colorful), we could never go in because that was reserved for volunteers. But now Animal Friends has partnered with Colony Café to offer a gathering place where you don’t have to be on the outside looking in anymore – here, you get to play with the cats and snuggle with them. So from the first moment I read about Pittsburgh getting a cat café, I knew we needed to plan a family adventure to go check it out.  

Colony Cafe in Pittsburgh: wine, coffee, cats

Colony Café is located at 1125 Penn Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh. You can try to park in metered street spots or one of the lots or garages nearby – we parked at the Pittsburgh Parking Authority’s Grant Street Transportation Center garage and it cost us $5. We walked right across the street to the café, so it was very convenient.

The café itself is on the first floor and seems like a nice place to stop in for coffee, wine or food – here’s the menu. They have free WiFi and lots of cozy spots so, even if you don’t plan to visit to the cat loft, you can just hang in the café.   

Colony Cafe Cozy Spots

Colony Cafe in Pittsburgh: cozy spots, cool art, fresh flowers and lots of natural light

But if you come for the cats, then it’s smart to book a reservation which you can do via the café website. While reservations aren’t required, the cat visits are slotted in one-hour increments and the number of people per slot is limited to 10 so that the cats don’t get overwhelmed and everyone can get some cat time. If the slot isn’t full when you visit, you can certainly join in but slots do fill up especially on the weekends. The cats nap and take a break from us humans between 2pm and 3pm each day so plan your visit around that if you go. Other things to note: kids must be 8 years or older to visit the cat loft (except for special events where younger children are welcomed) and the cost to visit with the cats for the hour slot is $8. This fee helps Colony Café cover the costs of caring for and feeding the cats – generally 10 to 12 cats live in the loft full-time until they’re adopted. Speaking of adopting – 48 cats have been adopted from Animals Friends via the Colony Café since it opened in February 2017. The process is a thorough one so don’t expect to visit the cat café and leave with a cat on the same day – Animals Friends is serious about making sure the cats are going to caring homes.  

Colony Cafe Cat Loft

Colony Cafe in Pittsburgh: “because everything is better with cats”

We arrived about 15 minutes before our slotted cat time and were happily greeted when we walked in by the barista behind the counter. He checked us in and, while we waited to head up to the cat loft, I ordered a chai tea and the kids and I read in one of the cozy spots in the café. When we went upstairs for our visit, we were greeted at the door by another staff member. She stayed in the cat loft during the entire hour to answer any questions we might have and also monitor the cat/human interactions.

The cat loft space consists of a few sitting areas where you can observe the cats, who are lounging around in various cat-friendly spots. A basket of toys is set out if you want to play with the cats – my son loved blowing the catnip-infused bubbles which the cats mostly just curiously watched. You can hold the cats and pet them or simply just sit and read and be around them. Pictures of all the cats, along with their names, are hung on the wall so you can learn more about them if you are thinking of adopting. My kids fell in love with a little kitten named Erin – she was so snuggly and they took turns sitting in a chair with her cuddled up next to them. Each cat has a different personality, some didn’t want to be held, but all that I interacted with enjoyed the attention of a nice rub on the head. The litter boxes are accessible through a little cat-sized opening in the wall and the cats can escape in there if they need some quiet time during visits. If you need a restroom during your cat loft visit, you will need to go through the human-sized door back down the steps.    

Colony Cafe Cat Snuggles

Colony Cafe in Pittsburgh: snuggles with a kitty named Erin


Colony Cafe in Pittsburgh

Colony Cat Cafe: the cats are the main attraction

We all loved our visit to the Colony Café – and I appreciated the friendly treatment we got when we were there. Also, we got an email the same day of our visit asking what we thought and if we enjoyed our time. Obviously, the staff cares about trying to make it a welcoming place for humans as well as cats.

Thanks for reading along about our Colony Café family adventure in Pittsburgh – it was just like you were there!  

Love cats? You might like my blog post about the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West.



The Pirates played the Phillies yesterday and they won 1-0.

But here are 5 things I’ll remember most about being at that game: 

1 – My son got to take the field (along with other kids in his baseball league) and it was such a wonderful experience. He got to meet the shortstop, Mpho’ Gift Ngoepe. I got lots of great pics of him on the field but the one in the featured photo above is a favorite because it reminds me that all the professional players out there started out as young kids (like my son in the photo below) who simply loved to play the game. 


2 – The elementary kids from a local school sang the National Anthem and they did an AMAZING job! 


3 – Pizza Penny won the pierogi race and I don’t really like Pizza Penny. No offense to her, but I don’t know anyone who eats pizza pierogies.    

4 – It rained but we were under cover, literally in the very last row you could possibly sit in up top. With a view overlooking the whole park, the river and the skyline – I was reminded that there’s not really a bad seat in PNC Park to see a game.


5 – Just across the river at PPG Paints Arena, the Pens were crushing the Sens. Good day for Pittsburgh sports!


Thanks for reading!




FLASHBACK POST: I originally wrote this piece back in 2007 when I took my then one year-old daughter to The Andy Warhol Museum. I had taken her a couple times when she was a baby, but WOW, as a toddler, it was an especially great visit. My daughter is now 10 and we’ve visited the museum a few more times over the years but I always remember that toddler visit with her because I was inspired to write this piece, “Exploring the Warhol with a Pint-Sized Pittsburgher”. It never actually found a published home so…FINALLY it’s seeing the light of day! Obviously, the references to specific exhibitions are not valid anymore and, while I’ve added updated text since my most recent visit in 2017 (without kids this time), I kept the old work as an example that The Andy Warhol Museum, no matter which exhibition may be up at any given time, will likely have something of value for Pittsburgh’s youngest art connoisseurs.


My one-year old enjoying The Andy Warhol Museum back in 2007.

My one-year old enjoying The Andy Warhol Museum back in 2007.

Exploring the Warhol with a Pint-Sized Pittsburgher

Take your toddler to the Andy Warhol Museum.  Yes, you read that last sentence correctly.  I took my one-year old daughter and she had a blast! Mommy did, too.  The opportunity for educational fun is fit for a toddler king or queen.  Keep in mind, too, that the museum website ( has a spectacular education section to give you some insight into the collection.  Granted, most of this information is beyond your toddler at this point, but it’s good to know that the resource exists for the future.  As for now, here are some step-by-step guidelines for making the most of your visit with toddler in tow:

1) {from 2007} Don’t go on a weekend if at all possible.  This suggestion was echoed to me by the gift shop attendant who assured me that our weekday excursion was perfect timing.  This museum works well for toddlers because of its large, open spaces.  Going on the weekday means fewer crowds.

1) Updated 2017: I still agree with this, although the museum was not uncrowded mid-week when we went recently just not as crowded.

2) {from 2007} Go before March 30th to see the amazing Ron Mueck at the Andy Warhol Museum exhibition. The unbelievably realistic sculptures on display actually provide a wonderful educational opportunity.  Don’t miss the Mask III sculpture in the entrance gallery on the 1st floor.  Basically, it’s a HUGE face with a lifelike nose, eyes, ears, mouth – you get the picture.  All those basic parts of the face that toddlers are learning.  This piece of art helps to reinforce that knowledge on a grand scale.  And don’t pass up Mask II, an even more impressive BIG face, on the 7th floor.  The other Mueck sculptures are great for teaching scale – “See the SMALL man in the BIG boat?” (Man in a Boat, 5th floor), for example, or “Look at the BIG woman under the BIG blanket!” (In Bed, 7th floor).  Be creative – this exhibit can inspire your toddler in all sorts of ways but, remember, no touching.

2) Updated 2017: There were still plenty of opportunities to point out parts of the face especially in the silkscreen gallery of famous people. You can also find other body parts in art displayed as part of the current exhibition Andy Warhol: My Perfect Body (through January 22, 2017). If you’re concerned that you may encounter some body parts that you’re not quite ready to discuss as art yet, just know that toddlers are generally easily redirected. They will pay attention mostly to what you choose to point out to them.

Gallery of Warhol's silkscreens of famous people with chairs to lounge on when you and your toddler need a break.

Gallery of Warhol’s silkscreens of famous people with chairs to lounge on when you and your toddler need a break.

3) {from 2007} Bark and meow your way through the Canis Major: Andy Warhol’s Dogs and Cats (and other party animals) exhibit.  Your toddler will take great pleasure in seeing the many images of Warhol’s dogs and cats, on the 5th floor mainly, as well as the taxidermies of “Cecil” the Great Dane and the Lion.  The floor-to-ceiling fish and cow wallpaper on the 5th floor is impressive, too.  Practice the animal names and the sounds each animal makes.  Take note of the vibrant colors, too.  “Have you ever seen a GREEN cat with PINK eyes?”

3) Updated 2017: “Cecil” the Great Dane and the Lion are still in the museum as well as the wallpaper, too, but just not organized into one exhibit. Kids can find cats, dogs, birds, snakes, cows, fish, elephants and maybe even more that I missed.

Visitors are greeted by cow wallpaper as they enter The Andy Warhol Museum, 2017.

Visitors are greeted by cow wallpaper as they enter The Andy Warhol Museum, 2017.

A selection of art featuring cats at The Andy Warhol Museum, 2017.

A selection of art featuring cats at The Andy Warhol Museum, 2017.

4) {from 2007} Learn your colors and shapes and basic words with a little help from Andy.  With over 500 works of art from the Warhol collection on show at any one time, your options for learning about colors, shapes and first words is overwhelming actually.  So just make sure you don’t miss these favorites on display now: Marilyn (6th floor), Flowers, Female Head Collage, Birds (all 5th floor), and Diamond Dust Shoes (4th floor).

4) Updated 2017: Still true although the location and exact works may vary now. My favorite ‘first words’ options this visit were BOAT (Do It Yourself (Sailboats), 1962), SOUP (all work from the Campbell’s Soup series),CHAIR (this work is located in the studio area), & GIRL and BIRD (Seated Girl Looking at Bird Cage, 1940s).

Can you say BOAT? First words with Andy Warhol. Do It Yourself (Sailboats), 1962 at The Andy Warhol Museum, 2017.

Can you say BOAT? First words with Andy Warhol. Do It Yourself (Sailboats), 1962 at The Andy Warhol Museum, 2017.

Can you say SOUP? First words with Andy Warhol. Works from Warhol's Campbell's Soup series, 2017.

Can you say SOUP? First words with Andy Warhol. Works from Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup series, 2017.

Can you say CHAIR? First words with Andy Warhol. This piece is located in the Factory studio area.

Can you say CHAIR? First words with Andy Warhol. This piece is located in the Factory studio area.

Can you say GIRL and BIRD? First words with Andy Warhol. Seated Girl Looking at Bird Cage, ca. 1940s.

Can you say GIRL and BIRD? First words with Andy Warhol. Seated Girl Looking at Bird Cage, ca. 1940s.

5) {from 2007} Relax and have a seat in the Silver Clouds installation.  I would suggest enjoying this interactive installation on the 4th floor after you start to feel like your toddler might be waning.  Sensory overload?  Just need a minute to sit down?  Let your toddler roam around in the Silver Clouds room.  The bright, shiny, rectangular-shaped balloons are durable enough to be batted around gently and they double as mini fun-house mirrors.  The movement of the balloons is peaceful and mesmerizing.

5) Updated 2017: Location has changed for this exhibit but it is still AWESOME for young kids to experience. Don’t miss it. Fun for adults, too.

How the time flies! My one year-old enjoying the Silver Clouds circa 2007.

How the time flies! My one year-old enjoying the Silver Clouds circa 2007.


6) {from 2007} Don’t forget the café, the photo booth, and the store.  After all this educational fun, take advantage of the café.  And after you do that, cross your fingers that the old black and white photo booth in the basement at the foot of the stairs is working on the day you’re there.  If it is, you’ll get to go home with a souvenir worthy of the money it will cost you.  As for the store, it’s just super cool.  I got a print of the GREEN cat with the PINK eyes for my daughter and a heart-shaped lollipop for my husband with words on it that make Mommy glad that her one-year old can’t read yet.

6) Updated 2017: The café and gift store have changed but they’re still cool. The old photo booth is still there in the basement plus they’ve added a new digital one in the lobby area to the left of the front desk. The hands-on studio area called the Factory is a great place to take kids during your visit. Also, several times throughout the year the museum offers a program specifically for kids ages 1 to 4 called Half-Pint Prints.


Thanks for reading!

Twinsies! Main lobby of The Andy Warhol Museum, 2017.

Twinsies! Main lobby of The Andy Warhol Museum, 2017.