I had a themed post almost all the way ready, but then today I visited a magical place…a place called Bookworm Gardens. (That should be read in a voice of hushed awe, by the way, possibly with starburst hand movements.) The planned post will wait until next month.
Bookworm Gardens (in Sheboygan, Wisconsin) is awash in story-themed imagery and interactive experiences for kids. Everything is there to be looked at, touched, climbed on, climbed in, and read about. Even the bathrooms have picture book murals, a laminated copy of a book, and a bay windowsill to perch up in to read! Instead of trying to do it justice in words, however (as a picture is worth a thousand of those), I’ll leave it to my photos and brief annotations to show you how it is (and link you up to the books being featured)! (Believe me, though, seeing the pictures is nothing to being there and having your children immersed in storyland! The place was bustling (you won’t believe how hard it was for me to get the clean shots of these things without someone in the frame!), but it didn’t feel claustrophobic or crowded. It’s an amazing place!) Then I’ll link you up to some other places to stop while you’re in Sheboygan so you can justify a weekend or weeklong visit! (Just pay attention to the open dates–May through October–so you don’t come for the beautiful gardens and end up looking through the fence at a snow-covered garden!)
First of all, I have an almost unhealthy obsession with Little Free Library boxes. This was right outside the Bookworm Gardens. The book at the very front was quite appropriate: Books Every Child Should Know: A Literature Quiz Book.
Here’s the scene as you walk up to the front gates. I believe the cottage you see is called the Hansel and Gretel Learning Center, and there’s where you’ll find the tiny gift shop, the restrooms, and the huge and lovely reading room pictured to the left!
This isn’t the only place in the two acre gardens where you can sit and read, though (just one of the few indoors). All throughout the grounds you’ll find chairs or other suitable perches along with stashes of the featured books that have been disassembled, laminated in heavy plastic, and bound back together with a spiral binding. To the left you’ll see one of the pillars that marks the beginning of a new section of the gardens with a little metal cubby for storing the books (pictured open to the right).
Some of the displays are pretty stinking elaborate. Here’s the one for Little House in the Big Woods (set in Wisconsin!), complete with an actual house and covered wagon! Inside, in a little cabinet, they even have a china shepherdess like Ma’s! The kids loved setting the table, sweeping the dirt floor, and pretending to build up the campfire outside!
Others are more floral and decorative, like this tribute to Lois Ehlert’s (a Wisconsonite as well!) Planting a Rainbow. Note the conveniently placed chairs! The plants all through the gardens, whether trees or flowers or vegetables, are labeled so you can tell what they are. (If you look to the far right, behind the yellow pot of gold flowers, there’s a tiny Harold and the Purple Crayon plot–just a purple metal crayon and a bunch of purple flowers!)
There were also a number of sculptures, topiaries, and mosaics dedicated to various books or just as an embellishment to an already beautiful scene.
Here’s a treehouse gazebo that would be just right for breaking out a certain Magic Tree House series.
Here’s a metal sculpture that I’m pretty sure has something to do with a children’s book, but I can’t recall the title! (This dangerous looking venus fly trap wasn’t labeled.)
I actually almost forgot the bathroom murals, and I totally missed an awesome photo op with my daughter! How fun would it have been for her to climb up in the “tub” and read the The Big Red Tub? Again, rushing, rushing to get through the whole garden (and we were there for three hours!), and we didn’t stop here. (The men’s restroom had Bugs for Lunch as its theme, but I didn’t get photos of that one.)
Now I’ll just put up a few pictures of some of the amazing and interactive displays found throughout the gardens and links to their books. Generous supporters sponsor these structures and activities, and kids absolutely love them!
Winnie-the-Pooh (child-sized door allows small children to enter and sit in a tiny chair to play with a few themed toys and stuffed animals)
Frankie the Walk and Roll Dog (kids could take the doggie wheelchair off of the cement dog statue to examine, and there was a big chair right next to the display to sit and read the story (which we didn’t do because we plan to come back again and just wanted to get a peek at the whole garden this visit))
The Three Little Pigs (just big enough for a small child or two to enter, my kids made their daddy be the Big Bad Wolf for a good ten minutes–there are many, many versions of this story to choose from, so I just linked one!)
Katie and the Sunflowers (various sized frames where kids can pose with some of Vincent Van Gogh’s works peeking out around the frame–there was a child-sized ballerina statue to represent Degas and the Little Dancer, too!)
Stuart Little (a tiny toy house complete with car!)
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (a Japanese teahouse, there was a large paper crane hanging precariously outside–I’m sure they’ll adjust that soon!–and a gong to ring)
Tops and Bottoms (the sliding door revealed the roots below–this book is actually a trickster tale that was a Caldecott honor book!)
Horton Hatches the Egg (one of the few things kids couldn’t climb on, there were three giant, concrete eggs in nests below where they could sit!)
Dinosaur Bones (while they couldn’t climb on this part, either, there was a sand pit fossil dig right below this reading dinosaur statue!)
A Playhouse for Monster (the book might be out-of-print and hard to find, but a goodly number of kids fit in this playhouse complete with chairs, a table, some play food, and plenty of windows and doors to open–my kids loved this thing!)
Seriously, this place is beyond amazing, and many others visiting (many who mentioned that displays were new, indicating that this wasn’t their first visit!) agreed! My small sampling of pictures doesn’t even begin to do it justice, I promise. (We’ve already made plans to visit again in October with my librarian sister and her family!) If you get a chance to go, admission is free, but definitely consider dropping in some paper money to show your appreciation for what these amazingly dedicated people do!
As promised, a list of local attractions to fill out your trip (although this place could take you all day!):
Il Ritrovo: We went here for lunch. It was a little pricey, but it was good stuff. Definitely worth a drop-in while you’re here!
Victorian Chocolate Shoppe: Right down the street from the Italian place, we stopped here for dessert. The website isn’t kidding about the chocolate aroma when you walk in! It was chocolate covered raspberries and truffles for the win!
Blue Harbor Resort: We didn’t stay here this time, but we came here for the weekend earlier this year to celebrate BoyChild’s fourth birthday (at his request to go to a waterpark)! It’s a beautiful place–huge!–and there are some shops and restaurants within walking distance (if it’s not March in Wisconsin and freezing like it was when we visited)! The waterpark is pretty fun for the kids, and our kids loved the aquarium-themed room we got (marina side to keep the costs down)–complete with bunk beds! There were several free activities for the kids throughout the day, a couple restaurants, an arcade, and a gift shop in the main building, and there are also spa services available!
Above & Beyond Children’s Museum: We didn’t get a chance to visit this museum (we were actually only in town for the day!), but at $6 a person for admission, it’s another decently-priced activity to do with the kids (particularly if the day turns rainy like it did today)!