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StoryWalk celebrates fall in Bristol with whimsical tale

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By KATHRYN FLAGG

BRISTOL — Seven-year-old Sierra Barnicle ran ahead of her father, Scott, to reach the last placard in Bristol’s first StoryWalk last week, eager to reach the end of the story that marches its way, page by page, down Mountain and Spring streets between the Bristol Elementary School and the Lawrence Memorial Library.

The Weybridge residents happened upon the exhibit, on loan from the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier until Sept. 19, in a stroke of good luck. In a series of small, unassuming signposts, the “StoryWalk” depicts the children’s story “Leaves,” by David Ezra Stein.

While the family dog wagged his tail amiably, Sierra explained that she, for one, thought the StoryWalk was a great idea — and appreciated the seasonal choice of “Leaves.” Warm, pen-and-ink drawings and spare text tell the story of a very young bear’s confusion when leaves start to fall during his first autumn, and his delight when new leaves welcome him after winter’s hibernation.

It’s a charming story, beautifully executed — each page is adorned with a lovely pen-and-ink drawing and spare, quiet prose.

“I like it,” Sierra said, “because it’s welcoming fall.”

Once the after-school flurry of activity between the elementary school and the library had died down, Eva Ginalski, a third-grader at Bristol Elementary, chimed in with her own praise for the StoryWalk. Like Sierra Barnicle, Ginalski appreciated the tie to the seasons.

“It’s a good time to do it because the leaves are just starting to fall,” she said. She said she’d love to see more StoryWalks in the future — and hoped that future stories would also correspond to the seasons.

Though the Bristol StoryWalk is the first of its kind to hit Addison County, the StoryWalk concept — which organizers hope encourages not only literacy but also physical activity — is cropping up in communities across the state.

The idea for the StoryWalk struck Montpelier resident Anne Ferguson for the first time about a year ago. Ferguson was at her office one day — she works for the Vermont Department of Health — when a friend returned from a lunchtime walk. The friend mentioned that someone had been drawing on the sidewalk with chalk. Immediately, Ferguson was enchanted by the idea of following a story down a path — and what better stories to feature, she wondered, than those of truly excellent children’s books?   

So Ferguson made a few phone calls. She called up Grace Greene, Children’s Services Consultant with the Vermont Department of Libraries, to ask about copyright issues, and contacted the Vermont Humanities Council to see about funding. And that, Ferguson said, was that.

“Within a span of two days, I had the idea and the funding and I was in motion,” she said.

Ferguson organizes the StoryWalk project as a volunteer, with the help of her two community partners, the Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition and the Kellogg-Hubbard Library.

“Leaves” was the first book she converted into a StoryWalk, though she quickly began collecting others as well. The best StoryWalks, she explained, have minimal text and pages that can stand on their own — and, of course, “really wonderful little stories.”

At least two dozen towns in Vermont have displayed StoryWalks since the project’s inception — many borrowing the stories and posts from the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, while others have created their own.

And, Ferguson said, she quickly learned that adults often love the StoryWalks just as much as children do. Ferguson remembered one especially heartwarming comment left in a loose-leaf binder at the end of one StoryWalk, which she set up to collect feedback about the project. A 55-year-old man admitted, “You made this big kid’s day.”

In Bristol, Lawrence Library Director Nancy Wilson was similarly charmed by the concept. She learned about StoryWalks at a library conference she attended in May, where she had the chance to see a StoryWalk in action.

“I just thought it was the coolest thing,” Wilson said, though she admitted actually walking the StoryWalk cinched the deal for her. “I don’t think I would have been sold on it if I hadn’t been able to actually do it.”

She reached out the librarian at Bristol Elementary, Kyra Ginalski, and together the two decided to give the StoryWalk a shot in Bristol. If it’s popular, Wilson said, she hopes that the library will be able to put together StoryWalks of their own to use around Addison County.

“People just love it,” said Ferguson, who is pleased by the popularity that the idea has garnered in the few months the StoryWalk project has been up and running. “It’s just a really wonderful way to draw people out.”

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