A reading and physical activity program is beginning to catch on more and more in the Almaguin Highlands. The Story Walk Project involves pages of children's picture books attached to stakes and lined up on a walking trail. Adults then accompany the children who stop to read each page along the trail. The program helps entertain children with an exciting story and they get some outdoor walking exercise at the same time. The Powassan and District Union Public Library hopes to launch its version of the Story Walk Project by the end of May. South River-Machar Union Public Library is launching a Story Walk Project of its own around July 5. In a technical sense, South River may have been first with the Story Walk Project in Almaguin. When Ontario's March break was delayed and became the April break, the library looked to create activities for children. Library Chief Executive Officer Alison Young said the COVID-19 lockdowns prevented the library from having any in-house programs. But Young and her colleagues across Almaguin and other areas had been talking about the Story Walk Project in their regular discussions and how it worked. Young approached businesses on Main Street about putting a page from a book in each of their storefront windows. “I was a little nervous that some of the stores would be hesitant to put the pages up,” Young said. “But everyone said yes. It was a great idea.” The merchant participation saw the library put pages from the book The Very Impatient Caterpillar in the store fronts of about a dozen businesses for two weeks. Children were encouraged to pick up a card from the library before they started their Story Walk. At the end of each Story Walk Project page was a letter to a secret word which answered a specific question. Young says in this instance the question was 'What is the scientific name for a butterfly'? The children put down each letter at the end of each page on the card which, when complete, gave them the answer. Young says the kids returned the card with their answer to the library and were given a bag of candy. Response from the public was positive and Young says the library is expanding the program by introducing it at Tom Thomson Park. Young says the library will feature two books over the summer at the park, one for July and the other for August. If possible, the program may extend into September with a third book. The Very Impatient Caterpillar was written and illustrated by Ross Burach and he's written a sequel titled The Little Butterfly That Could. Young says the plan is to kick off the Story Walk Project at the park with Burach's sequel. The other two books planned for the program are The Good Egg and Duck on a Bike. Copies of each book are already available for reading at the library and the library will buy an additional copy of each book for the Story Walk Project. Young says funds are limited, meaning what people will see on the walk are half of the original pages from each book and photo copied pages of the other half of the books. All the pages will be laminated, put on corrugated cardboard and attached to metal stakes placed in the ground. A summer student at the library will do much of the preparatory work. A recent donation from Chalmers United Church in South River helped buy needed items. Young said the project will “absolutely” become an annual event. The plan is to again feature a Story Walk Project on Main Street for the next March break and then have a summer-long event again at Tom Thomson Park. Other communities with their own Story Walk projects include Sundridge, Perry and Whitestone, while others are also discussing the idea. Young says as more Almaguin communities create their own reading tours, the libraries can trade story pages with each other and keep their costs down by not having to buy new books each year. The Story Walk Project was created in 2007 by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, VT, with the two-fold objective of encouraging reading while getting a little family exercise at the same time. Story Walk Project doesn't charge anyone for use of its concept. It asks user groups put up its logo on the trail where book pages are read. As for the answer to what is the scientific name of a butterfly, the answer is Rhopalocera. Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget