By Kristen Levine

An interactive reading experience is on its way back to Princeton Public Library.

“The Storywalk is a project that began with two Vermont librarians in 2007,” said library director Erin Redihan. “What it does is bring books out of the library and into an outdoor space so people can enjoy them.”

The project gained popularity during the pandemic, with many public buildings offering limited hours or outright closures due to quarantines. Offering a story that can be read on a walk one page at a time offers a unique way both to exercise and spend quality time with a good book.

“We did If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff last year, and this year we’re going to do The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin,” Redihan said. “We’re hoping to have some sort of a planting tie-in; we haven’t fleshed that part out yet, but that’s the goal.”

The kit to post book pages are on loan from Norfolk Public Library, extending resources to Princeton. Laminated pages are placed on stakes that are then planted along a pre-planned path, allowing easy access. The Ugly Vegetables Storywalk will be on display for two weeks in summer, starting July 11th through the 25th. Space has been granted for the story walk with permission from the Princeton Select Board on the Common park area.

“For this year we wanted something that was outdoorsy in theme, the summer reading program theme has to do with the outdoors too,” Redihan said. “We went with an author that’s local; Grace Lin lives out in western Massachusetts and has a book that would be fun to display.”

The Storywalk originated with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier, Vermont. The program has gained popularity in the United States and beyond, reaching countries such as Malaysia and Pakistan.

“Kids today tend to have a more sedentary lifestyle than perhaps a generation or two ago,” Redihan said. “[Storywalk] is a way to combine reading with movement. It’s really gained traction during the pandemic because so many libraries were closed, and that’s why we decided to do one last year…. It’s a very low-impact program. You put the stakes up and then two weeks later you take them down. It’s something that gives kids a lot of enjoyment.”

Storywalk isn’t the only thing Princeton Library is bringing in. Redihan discussed the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program, which encourages the development of good reading habits with young children and their parents. The program began in Las Vegas, Nevada as a non-profit public charity, encouraging readership from infancy onwards.

“It’s exactly what it sounds like: the goal is to get kids to read with their parents, with one thousand books before age five and before kindergarten. What that does is get kids in the habit of reading early and creates a nice habit between kids and parents,” Redihan said. “I have a young daughter and it really quickly became part of our days.”

The Library will also be providing preschool-age children means of play and learning with the aid of a Mind In The Making grant for $1000, awarded by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners or MBLC.

“We’re making a very broad base to increase our offerings for preschool-aged children,” Redihan said. “The grant covers kids from birth to age six. We focus on preschoolers for a few reasons: First, with the pandemic preschools around have been closed, so there hasn’t been a lot to offer them for the last two years. The other reason is we have a lot of great books for kids, so this a way to close that gap. We’ve bought some large-format toys for the children’s room… a doll house, a light table, kitchen sets.”

These large-format, interactive toys will be rotated in the children’s room and give young children a chance to play and socialize, with Redihan stating the goal in “[There will be] spontaneous play, and let kids exercise their creativity.”

With Storywalk’s return and incoming changes to other aspects of the Library’s offerings for children and families, Redihan is optimistic for what it means for the patrons of the library, old and new alike.

“I think it’s great,” Redihan said of Storywalk. “It’s a very easy way to get kids interested in reading.”