Strolling in the sunshine along park trails, families stopped to enjoy an extra attraction: storybooks.
The King County Library System partnered with a local nonprofit program, PopUp STORYWALK, which took reading outside. It offered a healthy, educational reprieve from COVID-19 homebound activities while adhering to mask and social-distance guidelines.
PopUp STORYWALK featured enlarged, laminated and numbered pages of children’s books, installed along marked paths for people to follow, enjoy and discuss. Illustrated storybooks included themes about the natural world and lessons of kindness, empathy and creativity.
The literary treasure hunt proved popular with all age, and counted toward Summer Reading. It drew people to open spaces near KCLS locations, August through December.
The local nonprofit drew on the STORYWALK concept created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vermont, with help from Rachel Senechal of the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. It was developed to inspire literacy and the appreciation of nature and art; there are now STORYWALKS, a registered trademark, all over the U.S. (The local nonprofit is not trademarked).
KCLS teamed with PopUp STORYWALK to fund and install seven events, with three more planned for 2021 in Carnation, Issaquah and Sammamish. The 2020 PopUp books and sites included The Bear’s Song by Benjamin Chaud (Richmond Beach Community Park) and Bunnies!!! by Kevan Atteberry (Kelsey Creek Park, Bellevue). Patrons read The Water Princess by Susan Verde at Peter Kirk Park in Kirkland and Tiny Perfect Things by M.H. Clark at Cottage Lake Park in Woodinville. They roamed Redmond Library’s Doolittle Art Garden while reading Fox and the Bike Ride by Corey Tabor and read Bea’s Bees by Katherine Pryor in Newcastle and Kenmore.
Library staff also partnered with local parks, businesses and Friends groups to fund and create seven other STORYWALKS, including on library grounds (Newport Way, Bea’s Bees) and downtown Issaquah (All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold). Patrons also read Cat’s Colors by Arlie Anderson at Covington Community Park, North SeaTac Park and Burien Town Square.
STORYWALKS brought entire communities together. Patrons visited the local police station, several parks and the Des Moines Library grounds on the multi-book Uncover Des Moines Book Walk. Vashon staff created pathway markers and partnered with the Vashon Land Trust, local businesses and the Friends of the Library to install The Hike by Alison Farrell in a serene, woodsy setting.
“Especially during the pandemic, it was really nice to see a community effort and something everyone could enjoy,” said Vashon Librarian Amelia E. “We got a lot of really great feedback.”
On a sunny November day, the Borg family was among those walking and reading Tiny Perfect Things at Cottage Lake Park.
“I really like the STORYWALK concept; my mom told me about it,” L. Borg said. “This is the time of year when you really look for ways to be outside, and for fun ways to be together as a family.”
“I can read now! This is pretty cool,” said her five-year-old daughter.
STORYWALKS became a habit for the Dev family.
“We went to the Newcastle one first, then the Redmond one,” I. Dev said at Cottage Lake. “Once we got hooked, we went to every one of them.”
“The coronavirus has created a challenge for everyone, especially educating at home,” his wife said. “We love the library and are constantly checking out books for the boys (ages 4 and 6). With STORYWALKS, we are taking our time; it teaches them patience. We’ve also discovered things, like the sculpture garden at Redmond Library.”
“We’re big fans of the library,” said V. Mody at Peter Kirk Park. “The kids love to read, and being able to do it outside together is great.”
His daughter, age 8 and son, age 5, read each page of The Water Princess, then talked about it.
“This was fun. I liked the pictures, too,” his daughter said. “I’d read seven hours a day if I could.”
Her dad laughed. “Yes, but she still has to do her math. And if she got $1 for every book she reads, I’d be broke.”