If you live in the metro area and enjoy walking in local parks and by lakes, you may have noticed one of these signs along the way. Story Strolls, a summer learning program brought to you by Hennepin County Library, bring young readers’ favorite stories to the great outdoors.
Walkers encounter a story one page at a time as they hike along a path. Often, the books are in conversation with their surroundings, giving readers of all ages a unique, inspiring experience.
Librarians are meeting residents right in their neighborhoods and expanding the celebration of literacy beyond the walls of the library.
One Story Stroll asks us to listen carefully to the bird calls that compose the soundscape of Fort Snelling State Park. Suddenly, our power of observation and appreciation of the beauty around us feel heightened.
Another invites us to reflect on the name and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by pairing the park bearing his name with a story that helps us to imagine what it would have been like to live during the Civil Rights movement.
Story Strolls are just one of the many ways in which librarians are meeting residents right in their neighborhoods and expanding the celebration of literacy beyond the walls of the library.
Reading together is the single most important way for children to become proficient readers
Inspiring Early Literacy in Your Community
“Reading together is the single most important way for children to become proficient readers”, says Lee Burkhalter, Eden Prairie Youth Services Librarian, who oversees the Story Stroll program. Story Strolls encourage families to do just that.
Librarians carefully incorporate other important early learning skills into Story Strolls as well. For instance, at each stage of a stroll, a page number is inside a colorful shape at the bottom of the page. This gives families an opportunity to count together, developing early math skills. It also encourages children to identify the color or shape in which the number can be found.
To grab the attention of young readers in the great outdoors, library staff select stories with colorful illustrations and large font. Librarians also chose stories with few words and simple plots so they can be enjoyed even when readers stumble upon the middle of a story or miss a page while they’re enjoying nature.
As families engage with a story together, they can have meaningful conversations about a wide variety of themes. Story Strolls deepen our connection with books, the outdoors, and—perhaps most importantly—with each other.
I didn’t know you had books like this at the library.
Diverse Neighborhoods, Diverse Stories
“Our main priority when choosing books”, says Lee, “is picking titles with diverse stories that represent and speak to the various communities that reside in our library neighborhoods.”
A Story Stroll may catch the eye of someone who hasn’t visited the library in years, offering the library a unique opportunity to invite people in. Librarians hope to use the strolls to show people that the library has books that speak to all types of people and experiences in our community.
Lee says, “I will never forget when I once was at a community event. It was a pop-up library, so we had a variety of titles and picture books to check out. There was a woman looking at a book with a person of color on the cover, and she said, ‘I didn’t know you had books like this at the library.’ My hope for putting books out there is that people are going to see themselves reflected and they will think to themselves, “ okay, maybe the library has changed.”
Walking Through the Pandemic Together
Story Strolls were a huge asset to the library during the pandemic. When library buildings were closed for months to ensure the safety of library patrons, the library staff faced the difficult challenge of engaging with the community from a distance. Although they existed prior to the pandemic, the popularity and use of Story Strolls dramatically increased in 2020, offering a way to safely connect with the community and empower families through engaging with literacy.
Library staff has created a robust collection of stories formatted for Story Strolls that are being used by all 41 libraries.
As in-person gatherings increase, Story Strolls are becoming even more collaborative and welcome addition to Earth Day and Arbor Day celebrations, Pride events, library re-opening ceremonies, and more. In recognition of Juneteenth earlier this summer, Story Strolls amplified Black voices and history across the cities.
The stories are wonderful, but the responses they elicit are the best part.
Turning the Page
In the future, Lee hopes to feature more local authors in Story Strolls and plan events in collaboration with these authors. “Introducing young readers to new authors”, she says, "is one of the highlights of my work.” When a child reads a book by a local author and realizes the creator is nearby, writing feels like an attainable goal.
“I have loved putting Story Strolls up,” says Lee. “I love when I can be at the event for the entire time to greet people and hear their reactions. The stories are wonderful, but the responses that they elicit are the best part.”
Summer learning programs are funded in part by your generous donations to Friends. Visit this link to check for an upcoming stroll near you!