Sheboygan’s Bookworm Gardens inspires reading in children

walkwayGardens are about planting and growing, but most fruits of harvest on a 2-acre plot in Sheboygan are not edible. What visitors reap are the words, characters and lessons that good books teach.

Bookworm Gardens, on the city’s outskirts at the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan, opened in 2010 as a way to inspire reading and make dozens of books for children seem real. Seven themed areas encourage exploration and illustrate book titles in a beautiful setting that is rich with color, especially during this time of year.

Near a small bridge with railings of woven ropes are statues of waddling waterfowl, a nod to the book “Make Way for Ducklings.” In the Woodlands area, a treehouse that extends beyond the edge of a ravine is a tribute to “The Magic Treehouse.”

This well-designed garden seems much bigger than its actual size. Within it is a butterfly garden, a Japanese teahouse, a farm where pizza toppings grow and evidence of Winnie the Pooh, the Three Little Pigs and Peter Rabbit.

The garden also contains spots to play musical instruments, search for dinosaur bones and construct origami paper cranes. There are many places to sit: a covered wagon, immovable school bus, benches near a pond and – for those limber enough – inside the base of a tree trunk.

Giant crayons are painted onto the vertical slats of Adirondack chairs. Rocking chairs encourage out-loud, child-on-lap reading or resting. Pathways weave and are meant to be walked slowly because of all the small details to be discovered.

Inside occasional pillars of brick are book nooks, metal doors that open to reveal books and journals for all ages to ponder or add their thoughts.

What works to command the attention of children also is a pleasant outing for grandparents, even those with mobility issues. Most walkways are paved and wide enough for wheelchairs.

Programming has targeted older adults with memory challenges and classic books that encourage children to read.

Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. At the core of the nonprofit Bookworm Gardens Foundation are many volunteers who keep the area clean and maintained.

The 4-H Children’s Gardens, which is associated with Michigan State University in Lansing, was the inspiration for the Sheboygan project., 517-355-5191

Bookworm Gardens, 1415 Campus Dr., Sheboygan, is open May 1 to Oct. 31. Founder Sandy Livermore is a master gardener., 920-287-7895

Sheboygan presents the state’s only book festival for children this month. The fourth annual event, Oct. 11-13, features 15 authors and illustrators of books for kids and teens. Admission is free.

Talks and activities happen at Bookworm Gardens, Mead Public Library and the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. Most participating authors are from Wisconsin or Illinois.

The lineup includes Lois Ehlert, Charlotte Gunnufson, Janet Halfmann, Faith Erin Hicks, Daniel Kraus, Betsy Lewin, Stephanie Golightly Lowden, David McLimans, Bob Raczka, Eric Rohmann, Jennifer Rush, Barney Saltzberg, Mitch Teich, Amy Timberlake, Genevieve Waller and Paul Zelinsky.

Also for children (and parents) are free writing, art, dance and storytelling workshops. A committee of librarians, teachers and arts enthusiasts make this event happen.

Also in Sheboygan is the three-story Above and Beyond Children’s Museum, 902 N. Eighth St., whose draws include a treehouse to climb, giant horseshore-shaped magnet, unusual pipe organ and intricate miniature circus., 920-458-4263

Two other October book festivals are geared toward teen and adult readers.

The 14th annual Chippewa Valley Book Festival, Oct. 14-20, showcases the work of almost two dozen writers. They include comic book creator Gene Luen Yang, whose novel “Boxers and Saints” is a National Book Award candidate this year.

Events occur at many venues in and near Eau Claire., 715-839-5004

Madison Public Library’s Wisconsin Book Festival happens Oct. 17-20 and involves 50-plus events. Some talks occur at the city’s newly opened Central Library, described as a library for the future because of its flexible design which turns it into both a community center and book repository.

Keynote speakers include activist Bill Ayers, author of the new “Public Enemy: Confessions of an American Dissident,” and Stephen Jimenez, author of the newly released “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard.”

Columnist Mary Bergin also writes about Madison for