Literature meets nature

By Suzanne Williams swilliamsprairiepress@gmail.com
Posted 9/19/22

A local woman wanted to bring books to life for all to enjoy while promoting literacy and outdoor physical activity. Paris resident Mary Johnson’s idea finally became a reality this …

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Literature meets nature

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A local woman wanted to bring books to life for all to enjoy while promoting literacy and outdoor physical activity. Paris resident Mary Johnson’s idea finally became a reality this summer.

Recruiting help from her family, the Johnsons created a book walk in Schwartz Park. A book walk is taking the pages of a book and mounting each one in numerical order for park visitors to read as they stroll on the park’s man-made brick walkway. The story attraction at the park on Wood Street is among the one acre of woods that features a gazebo and various gardens

Johnson, with her husband Derrick and their three children, placed the first book on stanchions in June. “The Bear Ate Your Sandwich,” by Julia Sarcone-Roach, featured colorful pictures while telling the story of a bear who is transported to a city. The bear discovers happiness while searching for food in a delicious sandwich.

“I was a part of a Terre Haute mom’s group that started one there about 12 years ago in Dobbs Park,” Mary Johnson explained. “Through the years I really wanted to bring one to our town and just recently I decided I wanted to do this. So, I asked the city council for permission.”

After getting the city’s and park board’s permission, the Johnson couple and their children, Maverick, 2; Leland, 7; Knox, 9; and 12-year-old daughter Rylan began building the wooden stakes. All four children assisted in the creation while the family developed a system that makes assembling the story books and erecting the individual pages in the park seem easy.

Johnson says typically a children’s book is 30 to 32 pages long. 

The task to create the book page stands included cutting, sanding and staining wooden stakes. Next a wood board was mounted on top to display the pages. The family carefully disassembles the books, laminates the pages and fixes them to the boards. 

By doing the labor together as a family, it saved money. She said the cost to make the stakes was about $100 and the cost of laminating the pages is about $60 per book.

The book featured later this month coincides with the Paris Honeybee Festival. “The Life and Times of the Honeybee,” by Charles Micucci, is the next book.

As the family carefully chooses the stories, Johnson said the featured works are her children’s favorites from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Parton started the library in 1995 by sending free books to children under five years old.

“We are part of the Dolly Parton club,” she said. “My daughter is now 12 and our oldest son is 9 and they have loved these books through the years, and they are some of our favorites.”

Locally, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library is an effort by Altrusa to supply free books to young children.

Not only did Johnson want to create the book walk to promote literacy, she also wanted to instill in her children the importance of community service. 

“We wanted to do this as a family service project for the community,” said Johnson. “I want my children to learn to give back to others and what better way than this to do that. This is our family thing, and we are sharing it in hopes that people and other families enjoy it while getting out in a local park, which also promotes outdoor activity.”

The family has received positive feedback and enjoy photos shared by others as they read in the park.

In the future, the Johnsons hope to erect a second book walk in a local area and improve the quality of the stakes to make more permanent page fixtures.

“We hope to continue to promote literacy and family time,” she said. “We love to see others cherishing memories together while getting exercise in outdoor activities. It’s a little adventure for kids and adults and when they finish the book walk, we hope they think it was cool.

“Our ultimate goal is to get residents outside, read as a family and hopefully eventually create a second walk,” concluded Johnson.