Above: Ryan Grover (right), director of Rockwood Park and Museum, says kids love Story Walks. Photo courtesy Rockwood Park & Museum.
Story Walk program is an engaging way to promote literacy while getting exercise
By Adriana Camacho-Church
Otto, the octopus, wants to see the sun. He lives in the deep sea. His friends, swordfish and dolphin agree to show Otto the sun. On their way to the surface, the friends experience many adventures.
If you want to know what happens in Otto and the Sun written by Gigliola Zecchin, better known as Canela, take a walk outside the grounds of historic Rockwood Mansion in Wilmington.
Each page of the bilingual picture book is displayed on 19 individual wooden stands installed along a path of blooming trees and shrubs.
Along the way you will learn a few fun octopus facts —octopuses have blue blood; they are excellent problem solvers; they can unscrew jars.
Rockwood Park and Museum is one of three New Castle County parks participating in the county’s Story Walk program. Launched in 2021, the program aims to combine the benefits of literacy, exercise, nature, and social bonding. Carousel and Delcastle parks in Wilmington also feature Story Walk.
“It started during the pandemic,” says Enrique Morás, founder and CEO of Syncretic Press, Wilmington’s only independent publisher of children’s books in Spanish. “The county was looking for different ways to engage families with storytelling and literacy. Having outdoor reading options for kids during the summer was a dire need.”
Morás supplies the New Castle County Department of Libraries and Parks & Recreation with a list of books. After they select the books they want to use, Morás translates the books from Spanish to English and prepares them for display. A new book is displayed at the parks about every three months.
Bilingual picture books open the program to more community members and benefit those learning either language, says Morás. Books written by authors from Spanish speaking countries also spark curiosity for other languages and cultures and introduce a diverse perspective on art and storytelling.
Books chosen for Story Walk are easy to read and follow, feature beautiful illustrations, and don’t include too much text.
“Providing bilingual Story Walks offers the community an opportunity to celebrate Delaware’s diverse and multicultural society,” says Catherine Wimberley, programs & services coordinator for the county’s libraries. “According to the 2020 U.S. Census, over 15% of New Castle County’s 571,708 residents spoke a language other than English at home and 10% identify as Hispanic or Latino.”
The Story Walk concept was founded in 2007 by Anne Ferguson who worked with the Vermont Department of Health. She wanted to create a free activity that required families to get outside and be active while engaging in literacy. In collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, a local library, the project was initiated.
Story Walks are now installed in 50 states and 13 countries, including South Korea, Malaysia, Germany and Russia. They are found outside of schools, libraries, walking trails, city settings and businesses.
Syncretic Press also has Story Walks in Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Massachusetts as well as other states. And it has installed Story Walks at Appoquinimink Community Library and Las Américas ASPIRA Academy, a dual language immersion school In Newark.
“Kids love the Story Walks,” says Ryan Grover, director of Rockwood Park and Museum. The program fits perfectly with the park’s promotion of literacy and the arts. Rockwood holds open mic poetry readings, theater performances by Delaware Shakespeare, and other adult and children programs year round.
Sarena Deglin, administrative librarian at Delaware Division of Libraries, says a few libraries in southern Delaware also offer Story Walks. Dover Public Library has a Story Walk located in Silver Lake Park. And Lewes Public Library, in partnership with Lewes in Bloom, installed a Story Walk in The Children’s Learning Garden located in Stango Park. These Story Walks are made possible, says Deglin, through donations from local businesses, organizations and community members.