Downtown Iowa City StoryWalk gets families outside for spring

After what’s been, for many, a cooped-up and isolated winter, a number of stores are displaying storybook pages in their front windows to encourage more downtown activity.


Kate Heston

The Iowa City Public Library hosts a StoryWalk downtown Iowa City in which different pages of the book are displayed in different store fronts.

Hunter Koontz, Arts Reporter

Storybook art has brightened downtown store windows in the past few weeks. Through April, selected stores will display pages from popular children’s books to encourage families to get outside and enjoy the spring weather as part of Iowa City’s newly launched “StoryWalk” event.

Iowa City StoryWalk features two books along two different routes in downtown and Northside neighborhoods, respectively. Both We Are Water Protectors by Golden Kite award-winner Carole Lindstrom, and Some Dinosaurs are Small by Charlotte Voake focus on topics such as diversity and environmental conservation, with eye-catching illustrations to help keep young readers engaged along their walks. Both books were selected and provided by Prairie Lights Bookstore.

Each route begins at the Iowa City Public Library, where participants can pick up maps that will lead them on 15 to 30-minute strolls around town. The maps also include interactive “scavenger hunts,” which ask kids to identify words and pictures that are found in the pages displayed for a chance to win a copy of each book.

Created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vermont, in collaboration with the Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Program as well as the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, StoryWalk was made for the sake of promoting reading and exercise in children and adults alike. StoryWalks have now been held in many other states in the U.S., as well as internationally, said Christopher Hunter, special events director for the Iowa City Downtown District.

Hunter said the local StoryWalk came about because of suggestions from downtown store owners themselves, who became interested in the project after seeing stories online about participating libraries across the country.

RELATED: Iowa City Public Library reopens for limited browsing, Bookmobile returns

“The timing was perfect,” Hunter said. “With people getting vaccinated, the nice thing about this is it can all be done from outside and at a distance.”

Hunter said the StoryWalk has been well-received by parents looking for fun spring activities to do with their children.

John’s Groceries General Manager Chris Moore volunteered his business to be part of the StoryWalk and has art from All Dinosaurs are Small painted on the store’s windows. Moore said businesses are enjoying the change, which Glassando President Abby Restko echoed.

“It’s been great to see people out and about more, that’s for sure,” Restko said. “People … [are] happy to see an activity that they can do safely right now.”

As the weather continues to improve, Moore said he’s seen increased activity outside — a trend he hopes will continue.

The Iowa City Downtown District has hosted similar events in the past and plans on holding more in the future. Hunter said a number of local organizations are looking to put together another StoryWalk in the upcoming months of summer, using an entirely different story.

“We really want to try to emphasize the activity portion of it,” Hunter said.