READFIELD – The message that accompanies local author Barbara Walsh’s latest book about Ginny, the 102-year-old lobster woman from Maine, is one that encourages people of all ages to get up and move, no matter how old they are – a seemingly perfect theme from the first official story of the Readfield Elementary School StoryWalk.
The StoryWalk was installed last year, but Walsh, along with Readfield Library director Melissa Small, hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 8 where Walsh read and led the walk through the path of the school for about 35 participants.
Walsh’s children’s book, “The Lobster Lady: Maine’s 102 year old Legend,” features Rockland’s Virginia Olivierwho became a local celebrity when the area learned that at her age she continued to fish lobster three days a week.
Walsh saw her featured on the TV show “207” and soon enough Walsh was on the lobster boat and walking through the Hannaford supermarket with her to learn her story.
“With Ginny, she’s out there, she’s always lobbing and engaging and that’s an important message as you get older not to be in front of a TV or a phone,” Walsh said. “She’s a role model for all of us and especially as people get older.”
StoryWalks aren’t a new concept for Walsh, but it was the first time her book had been in a book and she knew and knew about Small and the Readfield Library after doing several story readings for local children.
When Small thought of a story to present at the grand opening, “everything fell into place,” she said.
“Barbara (Walsh) says herself that it’s a 2 to 102 year old story and anyone can enjoy it,” Small said. “This is the story of a Maine woman and a true story that all ages can enjoy and learn from.”
The Readfield Elementary School StoryWalk is Readfield’s second StoryWalk, but it was installed alongside the StoryWalk behind the Readfield Library.
Small, with the help of Jada Clark, a nurse from Regional School Unit 38 which includes Readfield, set up two StoryWalk locations around town with a small $400 grant from Let’s Go!, as well as outsourcing to community members for materials.
Two classes of students—one at Maranacook Community High School and another at Kents Hill School in Readfield—created the structures for the two-story walks, with each class creating all of the units for one location.
Both StoryWalks have been installed in May 2021, but the Readfield Elementary School site only officially opened this year due to efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 situation in schools by not attracting more people to the area.
Although books have been installed this summer, they have not been announced.
The Maine Library Association asked librarians across the state where their StoryWalks were and the general response they got from them.
Librarians from Orono, Bridgton, Auburn and Fryeburg and others responded, with most saying it turned out to be a great activity during the pandemic for families.
“When COVID-19 first swept the world, we were all navigating how best to continue providing library services to patrons,” one librarian said. “With more families showing interest in outdoor programs, a StoryWalk seemed like a perfect offer to support our community. StoryWalks stimulate children’s interest in reading while encouraging healthy activities.
Tory Rogers first introduced a 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. birthday in Vermont.
As a listener to the conversation with Ferguson, Rogers thought it was “the coolest thing,” but as a pediatrician, Rogers saw the connection between how it could help achieve goals with the physical activity and learning.
“There is data on how we learn and the more you move the better you learn,” Rogers said. “There are so many studies if you get them (kids) up for 15 minutes and they’re active and then have them sit up and take a test, the activity of kids who were physically active before a test was significantly better than the children’s sit and do something else.
Rogers is a pediatrician at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center and senior director of Let’s Go!, a program that works to get kids into healthy habits. She believes the first StoryWalk took place at Freeport Elementary School.
Ferguson started StoryWalks a year before meeting Rogers in Vermont, working with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpellier.
Now, 15 years later, it’s unclear how many StoryWalks there are, but they’ve spread to all 50 states and 20 countries. Ferguson is providing the program for free and said she recently fielded calls from New Zealand, Israel and Estonia to launch StoryWalks.
According to her, the state with the most StoryWalks is Massachusetts; the Boston Children’s Museum and the Boston Public Library even received a “Race to the Top” grant during the administration of former President Barack Obama.
“They put together several StoryWalk-format books and distributed them statewide to community workers in early literacy,” Ferguson told the Kennebec Journal. “It was very exciting!”
In order to put a book in a “StoryWalk format”, two copies of the children’s book are required and are split at the spine so that it can fit in the transparent case on the wooden pillar. Two copies are needed because when displayed, the last page will not be displayed.
Ferguson said he’s seen StoryWalks on the beach, in schools, in libraries and parks, and even in cities and playgrounds.
Nan Bell, the Let’s Go! coordinator of southern Kennebec County and the program that originally gave Small and Clark the grant to start the Readfield StoryWalks, said she discovered one in Cumberland at her grandson’s baseball game.
“It was like finding gold,” she said.
Since then, Bell has tried to fund StoryWalks in the area and more recently helped set up the StoryWalk in Farrington Elementary School to Augustus.
She fell in love with them after finding the one with her grandson and because it can be a healthy way for kids to hang out, as Roger reasoned.
“I think it’s a silver lining for COVID,” she said. “More people have been looking to get out and there are a lot more people using trails (walking or hiking) and looking for kid-friendly activities that are outdoors and engage kids.
“It’s not that it wouldn’t have taken off that way, but people understand that this is a free family activity that you can do outside.”
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