The Times West Virginian

September 22, 2013

Developing love of reading focus at Story Walk Festival: PHOTOS

By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The fifth annual Story Walk Festival may have needed to move inside Saturday because of heavy rain, but there was still an “awesome turnout,” volunteer Heather Bayne said, with around 150 children plus their families coming out to the festival.

The event took place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Marion County Adult & Community Education Center. Kristin Cunningham, the chairperson for the Story Walk Festival, said the event was started as a way to bring students, their families and the community together.

“We have students of all ages, so this was a great way to get everyone involved,” Cunningham said.

The event has always had good attendance, Cunningham said, but over the years it has grown, with more children coming and more people volunteering each year.

“We already have more organizations who want to be involved next year,” Cunningham said.

Planning for the next year’s event starts “almost as soon as the event happens,” Cunningham said, and takes the entire year.

Activities at this year’s event included making bird feeders and cereal chains for the birds, reading books to therapy dogs, creating mouse book marks, a raffle and a scavenger hunt. The raffle prizes included two children’s bicycles, a brightly colored wooden abacus, and, of course, lots of books. Books and small toys were also given away at various organizations’ booths.

Two of the main attractions were Coastie the Safety Boat and Buster the Singing School Bus. Both were around 3 feet tall, as tall as many of the kids, and interacted directly with the children, asking their names and how old they were.

The event also had a special guest: West Virginia author Debra Benedetti, author of the children’s book “Season of Play,” which has won the Mom’s Choice Award and the Indie Book Award and was featured as one of the top books of 2012 in the magazine Creative Child. Benedetti read her book to the children and led them through classic games, like jump rope and hopscotch.

“Part of my book is trying to bring back games from the ’60s and ’70s,” Benedetti said, “to get kids busy, active and outside again.”

Benedetti, an English professor at Pierpont Community & Technical College, says the event has been “a real joy.”

“If you can give kids a love of reading, and eventually a love of writing, it’s a win-win,” Benedetti said.

Eliza Jane Willie, a 4-year old in a bright polka-dot dress, was at the event, enthusiastically playing hopscotch. She said that she loved to read, and her favorite books were about Dora the Explorer and her friends, and she likes the books better than the television show. Her favorite game is hide and seek because “if you don’t move, nobody can see you!”

Amanda Taylor was there with Kerri’s Korner Bookstore, helping out at the event by teaching kids how to make their own mouse bookmarks, complete with string whiskers. She said a love of reading is something she’s had from a young age.

“I read every day — I love to read,” Taylor said. “You can go anywhere when you read.”

Kerri Childs of Kerri’s Korner was also at the event, giving out free children’s books.

Kids who didn’t want to read books to each other or to their families had another option — read to the dogs. Mountaineer Therapy Dogs brought five dogs to the event.

Barbara Higgins, who brought her therapy dog Brenda Lee of the Lake, said that reading to dogs really helps kids get over their inhibitions.

“The children become absolutely comfortable around the dogs,” Higgins said. “The kids just sit with the dogs and practice, and become much better readers.”

Marion County Adult & Community Education Center sponsored the event. Partners included Literacy Volunteers of America, the Marion County Public Library, Kerri’s Korner Bookstore, Bumble Bear Corner Childcare Center, Mountaineer Therapy Dogs, the Board of Education Department of Transportation, Marion County Schools and the Coast Guard.

Cunningham says that people interested in being involved in next year’s event can contact her at Marion County Adult & Community Education Center at 304-363-READ (304-363-7323).

Email Colleen S. Good at cgood@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.