By Sue Ann Rybak
About 65 children and adults giggled and smiled as Lynne Hasse, the children’s librarian at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill Branch, invited them to participate in the library’s first StoryWalk held on July 9.
Hasse explained that the StoryWalk Project, sponsored by the Friends of Chestnut Hill Library, was conceived by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vt., and developed in collaboration with the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition and the Kellogg Hubbard Library as a way to encourage parents, teachers and other community members to take children outside to enjoy reading together.
Laminated pages from short children’s books such as “Weslandia,” written by Paul Fleschman and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, were posted along the path outside the library at 8711 Germantown Ave.
Children huddled around Hasse listening intently as she read the first page – “‘Of course, he’s miserable,’ moaned Wesley’s mother. ‘He sticks out. Like a nose,’ snapped his father.”
Jeff Bullard, area coordinator for Northwest Philadelphia libraries, read the next page as children examined the flowers and trees planted along the trail.
“Listening through the heating vent, Wesley knew they were right. He was an outcast from the civilization around him,” Bullard read. “He alone in his town disliked pizza and soda, alarming his mother and the school nurse. He found professional football stupid. He’d refused to shave half his head, the hairstyle worn by all the other boys, despite his father’s bribe of five dollars.”
Tired of feeling like an outsider, Wesley decides to start his own civilization with its own unique culture – food, clothing, shelter and language.
Talauren Isley-Byrd, of Mt. Airy, said the StoryWalk gave the children an opportunity to explore the library’s new garden. She added that her two boys enjoyed using the little, clear plastic magnifying glasses to look closely at the plants and flowers along the way.
Hasse said, thanks to the Friends of Chestnut Hill Library, the grounds outside the library were no longer “just a pile of dirt.”
Thanks to volunteers, it was transformed into a lush, vibrant garden with ferns, colorful flowers, stepping stones, a fairy house and a gazebo.
The StoryWalk also featured various activities at stations along the way including sidewalk chalk and bubbles.
After the event, participants were invited inside to enjoy some refreshments or create theme-related arts and crafts activities such as making tissue paper flowers or creating their own magical garden from recycled materials.
Hasse said she hopes this is just the first of many StoryWalks. She added that community engagement is a key component of StoryWalks.
“The idea is to promote literacy, physical activity and community involvement by encouraging people explore their neighborhood and nature,” she said. “We would love to partner with other organizations and schools such as the Morris Arboretum, the Chestnut Hill Business Association and J.S. Jenks to help organize and promote StoryWalks.”
Bullard said the library was “very pleased and surprised at the number of parents, nannies and children that came out” for the StoryWalk.
Hopefully, in the future, there will be more opportunities for the community to listen to more “Tales on Trails.”