About 40 children and teachers from Gladeville Elementary School, Priest Lake Christian Academy and Rutland Elementary School gathered Tuesday morning at Long Hunter State Park in Hermitage to celebrate Imagination Library Week with a trek down the Storybook Trail with Tennessee’s first lady.
The trail features large signs that are individual pages of children’s books that tells a story while you walk through the woods of Long Hunter State Park. This year’s book is “Miss Maple’s Seeds” by Eliza Wheeler.
Leslie Anne Rawlings, a park ranger at Long Hunter State Park, started the Storybook Trail three years ago with the hope to bring together literacy and learning with a twist in the outdoors, after she was inspired by a similar storybook trail at a park out of state.
“When I researched and saw that one out of eight adults in Nashville couldn’t read, I said, ‘OK, I’m on to something here.’ There’s a lot of literacy groups around the state but the biggest, coolest thing is the Imagination Library, so I thought that if I could start a story tail down here and get support that would be something to show the public that the parks and the libraries all kind of have similar goals,” Rawlings said, “We’re all trying to get families to spend time together and promote education.”
Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam joined Governor’s Books From Birth Foundation vice president Dean Hoskins, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Shari Meghreblian and TDEC Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill to greet the children.
“I like to go all over Tennessee and encourage kids to be strong readers,” Haslam told the crowd of excited students.
Haslam then led the children down the Storybook Trail where she read out loud the story of Miss Maple as she searched for orphaned seeds.
Nathalie Hoskins, a kindergarten teacher at Priest Lake Christian Academy, said her class was excited about the opportunity to read a book in a new way.
“The class was extremely excited about being there. Speaking on one of my students in particular, he said it was an awesome event. They thoroughly enjoyed the book that the governor’s wife read, the trail and walking around and they actually even got to see some wildlife when they saw a small deer while we were doing the event,” Hoskins said.
Hoskins said trails are permanent installations that will have books that rotate through each site as the program grows.
“The idea of the program is to provide children with books in the home so that they and their parent or adult caregiver can engage around those books and develop a love of reading and learning so that they are better prepared when they enter kindergarten,” Hoskins said. “This was the very first park in Tennessee that had a storybook trail, and by the end of the year, there will be six parks that have their own storybook trails and by the end of next summer, we’ll have a total of 12.”
The imagination Library began with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in 1995 which provided children with a free age-appropriate book each month until they are 5-years-old. The Imagination Library became a statewide program in 2004 and gave more than 13 million books throughout the United States in 2017.