READFIELD – The message that comes with local author Barbara Walsh’s latest book about Jenny, a 102-year-old lobster woman from Maine, is one that encourages people of all ages to get up and move, no matter their age – seems perfect the subject of the first official story in StoryWalk Redfield Primary School.
The StoryWalk was installed last year, but Walsh, along with Readfield Library Director Melissa Small, hosted a ribbon-cutting party on September 8 where Walsh read and led a walk across the path at the school for about 35 attendees.
Walsh’s children’s book, “Lady Lobster: The Legend of 102-Years Maine,” features Rockland’s novel Virginia Oliverwho became a local celebrity when the area caught wind of how old she was, continued to hunt crabs three days a week.
Walsh saw her featured on the TV show “207” and soon Walsh was on the lobster boat and wandered with her to the Hannaford supermarket to learn her story.
“With Jenny, she’s out, she still has sex with each other and it’s involved and that’s an important message when you get older so you’re not in front of the TV or the phone,” Walsh said. “She’s a role model for all of us especially with age.”
StoryWalks isn’t a new concept to Walsh, but it was the first time her book had been featured in one book and she was known and known by Small Library and Readfield after doing several story readings for children in the area.
“It all fell into place,” she said when Small thought of a story to feature at the grand opening.
“Barbara (Walsh) herself says it’s a story from ages 2 to 102 that everyone can enjoy,” Small said. “It’s a story about a Maine woman and a true story that all ages can appreciate and learn from.”
The Readfield Elementary School StoryWalk is Readfield’s second StoryWalk, but installed at the same time as StoryWalk behind the Readfield Library.
Small, with the help of Jada Clark, a nurse in the 38 regional school unit that includes Readfield, installed two StoryWalk locations in the city with a small grant of $400 from Let’s Go! , in addition to outsourcing materials to members of the community.
Two student classes—one at Maranacoke Community High School and one at Kent’s Hill School in Redfield—created structures for two one-story walkways, with each class creating all units on one site.
Both StoryWalks have been installed in May 2021, but the Redfield Elementary School site did not officially open until this year due to efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 situation in schools by not attracting more people to the area.
Although the books were installed during this summer, they were not announced.
The Maine Library Association asked librarians from across the state where their StoryWalks are located and the public response they got from getting it.
Librarians from Orono, Bridgeton, Auburn, Friborg and others answered, with most saying it has proven to be a great activity during the pandemic for families to do.
“When COVID-19 first swept the world, we were all navigating the best way to continue providing library services to beneficiaries,” said one librarian. “With more families interested in outdoor programs, StoryWalk seemed like an ideal show to support our community. StoryWalks fosters children’s interest in reading while also encouraging healthy activity.”
Tori Rogers first brought StoryWalk to Maine about 14 years ago after hearing about the idea through founder, Anne Ferguson, and her sister-in-law at a birthday party in Vermont.
As a listener in the conversation with Ferguson, Rogers thought it was “the coolest thing,” but as a pediatrician, Rogers saw the link on how to help achieve goals through physical activity and learning.
“There is data about how we learn and the more you move around, the better you learn,” Rogers said. “There are several studies if you get them[children]to get up for 15 minutes active and then have them sit down and do a test, and the kids who were physically active before the test did much better than the kids to just sit and do something else.”
Rogers is a pediatrician at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center and senior director of the Let’s Go! It is a program that seeks to provide children with healthy habits. She believes the first StoryWalk story was at Freeport Elementary School.
Ferguson started StoryWalks a year before she met Rogers in Vermont, in collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpellier.
Now, 15 years later, it is unknown how many StoryWalks there are, but it has spread to all 50 states and 20 countries. Ferguson is offering the program for free and said she recently made calls from New Zealand, Israel and Estonia to start StoryWalks.
According to her, the state with the most story walks is Massachusetts. The Boston Children’s Museum and Boston Public Library even received a “Race to the Top” grant during the administration of former President Barack Obama.
“They prepared multiple books in the StoryWalk format and distributed them across the state to early literacy community workers,” Ferguson told the Kennebec Journal. “It was very exciting!”
In order to place a book in the StoryWalk format, two copies of the children’s book are needed and open at the spine so that it can fit in the clear cover on the wooden shaft. Two copies are needed because when viewed, the back page will not be displayed.
Ferguson said she has seen StoryWalks on the beach, in schools, in libraries and parks, and even in towns and playgrounds.
Nan Bell, let’s go! The Quebec Southern District coordinator and program that originally awarded Small and Clark a scholarship to start Readfield StoryWalks said she first spotted one in Cumberland at her grandson’s baseball game.
“It was like finding gold,” she said.
Since then, Bill has attempted to fund StoryWalks across the region, and most recently helped install StoryWalk in Farrington Primary School in Augusta.
She became passionate about them after she found the one with her grandson and because they can be a healthy way for kids to get out, like Roger’s reasoning.
“I think it’s a silver lining to COVID,” she said. “More people are looking to get outside and there are a lot of people using trails (walking or hiking) and looking for kid-oriented activities outside and engaging kids.
“It’s not that it wouldn’t have gone that way, but people get the idea that it’s a free family activity that you can do outside.”
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