By Michael Gagne
MERIDEN — In “Jack” — a colorfully and whimsically illustrated children’s book by city native Tomie dePaola — the title character ventures on a journey soon to be joined by different species of animals.
Now families of all ages can see that journey unfold as they walk and read enlarged pages of the story, which have recently been installed along the Silver City Bridge on the Meriden Green.
“Jack” is the third storywalk the local Kiwanis Club has sponsored. With this particular storywalk Kiwanis Club members hoped to “step it up,” by featuring a work by the beloved author with local roots, explained Karen Roesler, a club member and former director of the Meriden Public Library. The suggestion came from Brian Cofrancesco, a past president of the Kiwanis Club.
Roesler described the story as a fun, simple book “that you can easily stroll past and read ... The illustrations are wonderful,” she said, adding it has a unique message at the end.
Roesler said the idea to use “Jack” had been close to a year in the making. She and other Kiwanis Club members had hoped to invite dePaola to take a stroll along the storywalk.
That opportunity did not come. Roesler said dePaola was delighted by the idea of the storywalk. However, he died last spring in New Hampshire at the age of 85 before the project’s completion.
In an emailed statement, Bob Hechtel, a representative for dePaola’s estate, wrote, “Tomie was delighted to know that a storywalk featuring “Jack” was going to happen in his hometown of Meriden because he had the fondest of memories of growing up there.”
Parks and Recreation Director Chris Bourdon described the storywalk, which is free and open to all families, as a great partnership between the Kiwanis Club and the city. Past storywalks have been displayed at Hubbard Park.
Bourdon said the storywalk encourages families to go outdoors, has an educational component and features a local author, making it a “triple bonus.”
He recommended arriving before dusk to read the story and sticking around a short while longer to see the lit-up Christmas decorations along the Green.
“It’s a good thing,” Bourdon said.
Judy Bobbi of East Hampton is dePaola’s younger sibling. Bobbi was delighted to learn one of her brother’s books was now on display, saying she and other surviving siblings of the late author are “very proud.”
Bobbi said her brother had always wanted to be a writer and illustrator.
“That was his vision from the time he started school,” Bobbi said.
He got his start in the profession illustrating for other authors before he began writing his own tales. More than 200 titles would feature dePaola’s illustration and words. Over the years, dePaola’s work garnered numerous accolades, including the American Library Association’s Laura Ingals Wilder Award for his contributions to children’s literature, according to his obituary.
The text in this storywalk’s panels is displayed in English and in Spanish. Along with the story, there is also a biography of dePaolo and a description of the storywalk. They will be on display through at least the second week of December, depending on weather.
Roesler hopes to install the “Jack” panels in similar walks along other city parks and in buildings in the future.
Cofrancesco described taking in sights of downtown Meriden while reading the story as a “really cool.”
“After we hung it up, my wife and I took a walk to talk it in,” he said. “It’s great… Before we left that afternoon a family was already coming in across the bridge for the story walk. “We just really want families to go and enjoy the story.”