The local artist wants to stimulate children’s imagination with her picture books

WESTFIELD — Children can write their own stories about Stanley Park this Wednesday as part of a unique program at the park. The goal of the Make A Forever Book program is to encourage children to let their imaginations run wild.

Children participating in this annual summer program receive a small illustrated paperback book created by local artist Denise Calvo Berndt about three years ago. It’s called “The Park” and features a duck named after the park. Stanley the duck along with his animal friends in the park show children several locations in the more than 300 acre park.

The Park is one of a series of similar books she has published: The Sea, The Farm and The Wild. The books all have different themes, but they have one thing in common: Each illustration has a page on which children can write their own story about the picture.

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

“I designed the books this way because I want children to let their imaginations run wild. 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 children to physically explore areas of the park other than just those depicted in the book’s illustrations.

The cover of The Park features an illustration of Stanley wearing an explorer’s hat. Since there are many ducks in the park, Calvo Berndt thought Stanley would fit in with the park’s natural surroundings. She also added an explorer hat to Stanley to encourage children to use their imaginations as explorers.

“I hope that writing their stories and using this map will inspire children to perhaps not only learn mapping skills, but learn other independent skills as well.” Hopefully my books will inspire some kids to want to write or draw. I want them to start using their imaginations in different ways.”

Calvo Berndt said she enjoys chatting with the children who come to the program. Having no grandchildren, she said interacting with the kids brings back a little bit of the fun of when she was a kid raising her own kids.

“It’s like a ray of sunshine for me,” says Calvo Berndt, who is often asked by children at the end of the show to sign their books.

“I like to draw. It’s relaxing, quiet and fun. And I can do it whenever I want.” 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 does not 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 benefiting Stanley Park.

Her first drawing was a cow. It was for a farm owned by one of their children – but they decided to go vegetarian. However, Calvo Berndt continued to draw and even took some courses to improve her skills. A local realtor, when she sells a home, often gives the new homeowners one of her drawings as a gift.

One of her other favorite things to do is spend time in Stanley Park. Calvo Berndt volunteers for his children’s programs and often gives guided tours. “I grew up near 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 uncommercialized.”

The hour-long program begins at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. August 3 at Stanley Park, 400 Western Ave. Space is limited and advance booking is required at stanleypark@stanleypark.org. For more information, visit www.stanleypark.org or call 568-9312.

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

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