PORTLAND, Maine — As the rhymes from the children’s book “The Bugliest Bug” were read aloud in Payson Park in Portland, kids hung on every word.
“I’ve never seen kids glomming on like that,” Scott Nash, the Peaks Island artist who illustrated “The Bugliest Bug,” said. “They were physically hanging on these pages. They’re just so engaged.”
The city unveiled its first StoryWalk on Wednesday afternoon, a path along which signs are posted showing pages of the book, as well as suggested exercises kids can do to mimic the insect characters. Those signs were given their first durability test during Wednesday’s grand opening as mobs of Ocean Avenue Elementary School students crowded around each one, many gripping the storyboards intently.
Theatrically reading the words were actors from the Portland Stage Company, a group that runs a robust Theater For Kids program in the city in addition to its professional productions.
Mayor Nicholas Mavodones trumpeted the StoryWalk as combining two of the city’s top priorities for children: literacy and exercise.
“People need to know there are easy and fun ways to live healthy and that the city is here to support them,” Mavodones told those in attendance Wednesday.
The project was funded by a portion of the $1.8 million Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant the city received in 2010 to implement strategies to reduce obesity. Mavodones on Wednesday said six out of every 10 Cumberland County adults and one out of every three Maine children are obese or overweight.
Other uses of the grant money included increasing the number of community gardens in the city, working with local restaurants to add calorie information on menus, and the installation of salad bars at Portland public schools.
The StoryWalk concept originated in Montpelier, Vt., where creator Anne Ferguson developed the project in collaboration with the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition and the Kellogg Hubbard Library, according to a Portland city news release.
“The Bugliest Bug” was written by Carol Diggory Shields and published in 2002.
“This is the best thing in the world to us,” said Stephen J. Podgajny, executive director of the Portland Public Library, one of many organizations that supported the Payson Park project, “To move and to read.”