Xavier Zsarmani Jr. and his parents, Xavier and Tonya Zsarmani, pose for a silly face photo with American Renaissance School students and staff during the dedication ceremony for the new StoryWalk at the Bentley Community Center in Statesville on Friday morning.


Students from Success Institute and American Renaissance School helped dedicate the new StoryWalk at the Bentley Community Center in Statesville on Friday morning.

After a ribbon-cutting ceremony, the students huddled around authors Xavier Zsarmani Jr. (who goes by “XJ”) and his dad, Xavier Zsarmani Sr., as they walked around the play area and read their book, “How to Catch a Bullyfish,” which is displayed on panels encircling the playground.

XJ Zsarmani Jr. listens as a student asks him a question about fishing during the dedication ceremony.

The students asked questions about fishing and teddy bears and whatever else came to mind, and XJ was happy to answer them.

In an interview, the young author, who attends ARS, explained why reading is such a big deal.

“It’s very important,” XJ said. “Books are everything! Books are life to me.”

He has grown accustomed to talking about his book and reading — and doesn’t shy away from being the center of attention. “This is heaven,” he said.

The new StoryWalk is a collaborative effort of the Iredell County Public Library, Friends of the Library, Iredell County Partnership for Young Children, the City of Statesville Recreation & Parks Department and the Fourth Creek Rotary Club. The Iredell County Community Foundation provided a grant for the project.

Representatives from all those organizations were present for the ceremony, along with Statesville Mayor Costi Kutteh and City Manager Ron Smith.

Peyton Barrows, literacy program coordinator for the Iredell County Partnership for Young Children, said the project fits perfectly with the nonprofit’s mission of promoting early childhood literacy.

“Our motto is, ‘There’s no app to replace a lap,’ ” she said.

The StoryWalk, which costs about $6,000 to install, is the second one championed by the library staff in Iredell County. There is one at Scotts Rosenwald Park in western Iredell County.

Library staff members Jenny Levins and Amanda Cain are very involved with the StoryWalk project, but Library Director Juli Moore explained that it’s a total team effort.

“The whole staff is really getting into selecting the books,” Moore said.

The library staff hopes the next StoryWalk will be installed on the walking trail at Troutman ESC Park and is pursuing grant funding for that project.