Storyville II opens today at the Woodlawn branch. Above at left… (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara…)
When Cindy Ulrich's grandson bursts through the front door of her Bowleys Quarters home, he asks the same question: Is it library day?
Ulrich says 3-year-old Dalton Scheckells looks forward to their visits to the Rosedale branch of the Baltimore County Library, where he can shop, cook, build and garden in Storyville, a child-scale village that he never wants to leave.
"This is just a fantastic place, where there is no 'can't touch' and everything is their size," Ulrich said. "Where else can you bring kids to play for free?"
The pair have joined the more than 153,000 visitors to the county's first interactive learning center since it opened two years ago, a level of popularity that led the county to build another Storyville at its western end. Storyville II opens today, in a $1.7 million, 3,200-square-foot addition to the Woodlawn Library.
Library spokesman Robert Hughes expects the sequel to draw similar crowds.
"The visitor numbers astounded everyone," he said. "For a time, they tracked ZIP codes and found people coming from all over Maryland and many from out of state."
The Woodlawn center is about 1,000 square feet larger than the original. Designers pursued a woodsy theme, filling spaces with forest creatures, a towering tree topped with a house, multicolored flowers that 'grow' at a child's touch and butterflies on poles that give them movement.
"We built to give active toddlers a lot of room to move," said Marisa Conner, youth services coordinator for the library system. "They can crawl through a log or find a quiet space in a cave with a bear puppet."
They will also hear the sounds of birds, frogs and squirrels and should eventually learn to match those sounds with letters.
"Every activity has a purpose that is related to school readiness and developing lifelong readers," Conner said. "This is about learning through playing and it's all hands-on. There's nothing battery-operated here."
Staff members at the Woodlawn Library may also spring spontaneous story times on groups of children.
"I think the hardest thing will be getting kids to leave, once they are here," said Christine Kamt, coordinator at the new site. She estimates the space can handle about 70 children at a time. In the event of crowds, she will follow Rosedale's example and hand out restaurant-style pagers to let patrons know when spaces open up.
Kamt, who spent the past week preparing the various areas, said the baby garden, with its multi-textured seats and comfy beds that encourage "tummy time," was her favorite.
"This garden encourages parents to get on the floor with their babies," said Kamt, an expectant mother who said she plans to be a frequent visitor with her newborn.
The wing, with its own entrance and parking lot, also features a trolley car that replicates, down to the original colors and the No. 35, Woodlawn's early public transportation. Passenger seats equipped with springs promise to keep toddlers rocking.
At the Rosedale Library, enthusiasm for the original Storyville continues.
"Storyville is just a great place to play, with so many activities," said Kim Tharp, a Perry Hall mother of 2-year-old twins, who were busily rearranging the contents of grocery bins and making their version of salad. "We will keep coming, even as their interests change, because there will be things for them to do."
A group of Danish librarians who toured the site in December planned to take the concept back home.
"We will disseminate the inspiration from the study tour for other Danish libraries," Lotte Duwe Nielsen wrote to Rosedale. "Your work will no doubt inspire development of library services for children in Denmark."
Megan Grace read to her 11-month-old daughter, Violet, in the baby garden and watched as the toddler busied herself with mirrors on the floor, soft sculptured animals and child-size noisemakers.
"This place is safer than most homes," said Grace, a Rosedale resident. "I was really taken back by all the detail that went into this, how it all works so well and how clean it all is."
Caroline Tynan brings her three children from Severn to Rosedale every week. While Liam, 1, dug in the garden, his 3-year-old twin siblings, Kolbe and Eva, puttered in the kitchen. After a few hours of play, the family headed off to story time.
"There is something here to appeal to all different age ranges," Tynan said. "It is all so age-appropriate and interactive."
Her only dilemma now is deciding which Storyville is closer to home.
"No matter where it is, this place is worth the drive," she said.