Books

Local artist hopes to spark kids’ imagination with her picture books

WESTFIELD – Children will get to write their own stories about Stanley Park as a part of a unique program at the park this Wednesday. The goal of the program, “Make A Forever Book,” is to get kids to use their imagination.

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Kids attending this annual summer program will receive a small, illustrated paperback book that local artist Denise Calvo Berndt created about three years ago. Called “The Park,” it features a duck named after the park. Stanley the duck, along with his animal friends at the park, will show kids several locations in the more than 300-acre park.

“The Park” is one in a series of similar books she has published: “The Sea,” “The Farm,” and “The Wild (drawings of wild animals). While the books all have different subjects, the one thing they have in common is that there is a page opposite each illustration where kids can write their own story to go with the picture.

In addition to the four published books, she’s working on her next picture book, which will be about the beach. “I call them ‘forever books’ because my hope is that they will keep the books forever,” said Calvo Berndt.

“I designed the books this way because I want kids to use their imagination. Too many kids today spend a lot of time in front of a screen -– a phone or a laptop – instead of enjoying other things,” she explained.

On the inside back cover of “The Park,” Calvo Berndt drew a map of Stanley Park to encourage kids to physically explore different areas of the park beyond just the ones in the book’s illustrations.

The cover of “The Park” has an illustration of Stanley wearing an explorer’s hat. Since there are a lot of ducks at the park, Calvo Berndt thought that Stanley would fit into the park’s natural surroundings. She also added an explorer’s hat to Stanley as another way to get kids interested in using their imagination as explorers.

“I’m hoping that by writing their stories and using this map, it will inspire kids to perhaps not only learn mapping skills, but to also learn other independent skills. Hopefully, my books will inspire some kids to want to write or to draw. I want them to begin to have an appreciation for using their imagination in different ways.”

Calvo Berndt said she enjoys talking with the kids who come to the program. Since she doesn’t have any grandchildren, she said interacting with the children brings back a little bit of the fun of when she was a child and when she was raising her own kids.

“It’s like a ray of sunshine for me,” said Calvo Berndt, who often gets requests from kids at the end of the program to autograph their books.

“I enjoy drawing. It’s relaxing, quiet, and fun. And, I can do it whenever I want to.” she said. “I started drawing because I needed a new hobby. I like to draw animals and flowers, but birds are my favorite subject. I love drawing birds.”

Although Calvo Berndt doesn’t consider herself a professional artist, the Westfield native has sold some of her books and drawings at local events and at Pilgrim Candle. A large drawing of a bird she drew has been framed and will be auctioned off at a fundraiser to benefit Stanley Park.

Her first drawing was a cow. It was for a farm owned by one of her children – but they decided to become vegetarians. Calvo Berndt, however, kept drawing and even took some classes to improve her skills. A local Realtor, when she sells a house, she will often give the new homeowners one of her drawings as a gift.

One of her other favorite pastimes is spending time at Stanley Park. Calvo Berndt volunteers for its children’s programs and often gives tours. “I grew up off Western Ave, so the park was my backyard. It’s always been a part of my life. I still enjoy it – my husband and I walk there every weekend. The park is such a beautiful place – and it’s still free and not commercialized.”

The one-hour program begins at 10 am on Wed. Aug. 3 at Stanley Park, 400 Western Ave. Space is limited and advance registration is required at [email protected] For more information, visit www.stanleypark.org or call 568-9312.

7-29-22 - Local Artist at Stanley Park

Local artist and Westfield native Denise Calvo Berndt stands beside a large framed drawing of a bird she drew that will be auctioned at a fundraiser to benefit Stanley Park. Drawing and spending time at the park are two of her favorite pastimes. (MIKE LYDICK / THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

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