“Storywalk” is a simple-sounding word.
But the Uniondale Public Library’s summer Storywalk program represented a complex collaboration among library staff, the Uniondale school district, Deputy Town Supervisor Dorothy Goosby, and artist-activist Nichelle Rivers.
StoryWalk®, as designed and registered in Montpelier, Vermont, is a literacy activity in which pages of a children’s book are mounted on a series of laminated storyboards along a park pathway. Families can walk the path and enjoy the stories.
But Uniondale took its Storywalk to a completely different level. The participating families each worked with Uniondale librarians to write their own unique story, and then create original art for it with Rivers’ help.
The families’ story boards were installed on Aug. 21 at Uniondale Avenue Park, where they remained until Sept. 1.
The idea for the project was born when Uniondale librarian Tamelee Young brainstormed the idea with the library’s assistant director, Syntychia Kendrick-Samuel.
“The purpose of the project was to reflect the beautiful diverse community of Uniondale,” Kendrick-Samuel said. “The library held a series of workshops led by Children’s Librarian Melissa Bobe, who worked with each family as they wrote their story.”
The Uniondale school district, which partners with the library, provided the funding through a community grant from the Wallace Foundation.
The participating families did indeed reflect Uniondale’s rich diversity. Yet their stories reflected the concerns of families everywhere around the globe: togetherness, fun, and vital concerns such as gaining skills and listening carefully.
The Alleyne family wrote “Sprinkles, Please!” — a story about a rooster who won’t give up on his order from an ice cream truck until he is heard. The story ends, “Just like our family, if you take time to listen, you will hear what the person is saying.”
The Aleman family titled their story, “How We Feel when Family Comes.” One of the family members in the story was a gentle elephant, and the Alemans wrote the text in Spanish.
Favorite family activities formed the substance of “A Story by the Cooke Family” — playing games, visiting grandparents, learning to ride two-wheelers at Shirley Chisholm State Park.
“Camping 2023,” the title of the Zafarali family tale, recounted their camping trip in July. “This was an absolute blast for our whole family, and we encourage other families to try it,” was the last line.
“The Best and Worst Summer Ever” by Judine Dixon and her children, Carter and Khari, detailed their creation of a backyard water park during the pandemic. “The world outside was on pause but our adventure still continues,” they concluded.
Each of the stories was accompanied by a single illustration, coached by Rivers, who works with local libraries and displays her work on Long Island.
Rivers holds a doctorate in education from the University of Memphis, has championed the rights of the LGBTQ+ community for decades, and is a member of the Equity, Diversion & Inclusion Committee for the New York State Art Teachers Association.
Sunlight smiled down on the installation. Gathering with Rivers, Bobe, Kendrick-Samuel, Young, and the families were Library Director Mara Marin and Bilingual Outreach Librarian Deborah Kinirons, who did translations into Spanish for the project with the help of clerks Glenda Cecilia Carrera and Carmen Marin.
Carrera also attended the installation, as did Children’s Librarian James Grzybowski, Head of Children’s Dept. Chrissy Hirsch, and library trustee Debra Mabry.
“Town of Hempstead Deputy Supervisor Dorothy Goosby was instrumental in helping us to obtain the necessary permits to have the Storywalk installed at Uniondale Avenue Park,” said Kendrick-Samuel. “It was truly a team effort. Other members of the library staff helped in the process, and artist Nichelle Rivers brought it all to life.”
Writer-artist Jessica Gregory, clerk typist for the Uniondale Public Library, did the editing and placement for the storyboards, which were produced by Jack Plushnick Minuteman Press in Westbury.
Plans to repeat the program next summer are already in the works.