Stepping Into Stories


All Kinds of Intelligence

Sterling Heights, Michigan

Even when there is no pandemic to keep people at home, there are a fair number of us who prefer getting outdoors to sitting inside reading books. Thankfully, there are librarians who have just the thing for these individuals. Barbara Petrowski is one of those librarians who embraces the unconventional. But she’s quick to give credit where it’s due. “We did not invent StoryWalks. They are the brainchild of a woman in Vermont named Anne Ferguson.”

Petrowski is talking about the reading adventure she helped bring to her town of Sterling Heights, Michigan, three years ago. She says before she pitched the idea of creating a Storywalk, a walking trail for readers, she’d learned some things from others who had already traveled this path. “I had heard of other libraries doing StoryWalks and found out that Anne was the first to do them. She actually owns the service mark for Storywalk® and we give credit to her on our StoryWalk pages as she requests on her website.”

So Anne Ferguson is the originator of this concept, and she developed the first StoryWalk in Montpelier, Vermont, in 2007, in conjunction with Rachel Senechal of Kellogg-Hubbard Library. The concept is simple—a laminated page from a real book at each of several displays, allowing walkers to read an entire story as they stroll. It was apparently a great idea, because today, you’ll find StoryWalks and similar projects throughout the country.

The new StoryWalk in Sterling Heights is less than a year old. Petrowski has shepherded the program from the start. “Our first StoryWalk was not permanent and ran along a new walkway in our city center complex– library, city hall, police department, etc.– and people looked forward to the new books as we put them out.” Over the past couple of years, the library has learned some things about wind, weather and other perils of outdoor book displays. In 2019, they procured sturdy, dedicated equipment and got funding from their local government to place StoryWalk in two area parks.

Since the fall, visitors to Beaver Creek Park have been able to enjoy this word walking expedition. Those who have an affinity for the outdoors or who want to get some fresh air and exercise can stop at each of the twenty, permanent stations to read the pages of the featured book. Since 2017, local residents have been able to sample a changing assortment of children’s picture books… Wild About Reading; Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site; and Katy No-Pocket. Up next? Petrowski says it’s Harry the Dirty Dog. “It’s a lot of fun to share favorite books with kids, especially some of the classics. With a book like Harry, you can also talk about things kids aren’t familiar with like coal chutes.” Getting more residents familiar with StoryWalk is Petrowski’s current goal. The library also puts a premium on accessibility. The stations in Sterling Heights offer braille so that readers without sight can enjoy the books. And the number of overall users is set to increase when StoryWalk expands to a second park in the months ahead. It’s all part of the mission to get more people up and moving and reading.

If you want to know more about StoryWalk, including how to start a project of your own, visit the website of the originator:

Credit for the theory of multiple intelligences goes to Howard Gardner, who wrote the book Frames of Mind in 1983. He theorized that people can have learning strengths in eight different areas—bodily- kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, logical-mathematical, musical-rhythmic, naturalistic, verbal- linguistic, and visual-spatial. Later, he suggested existential and moral intelligences might be added to the list. Note that these are not learning styles but are distinct intelligences. Though many schools base instructional programs on the theory, Gardner has advised that best practice means differentiating for different student needs and providing essential instruction using a variety of approaches. You can read more in his book.