SHADY HILLS — How many times have you read a book, and wished you could jump into that world? A local learning foundation brought children’s books and characters to life in a “forest” for youngsters to explore.

On Saturday, March 10, the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties held a storybook forest in Crews Lake Wilderness Park.

Approximately 2,500 people came to the event, which featured 80 vendors and live entertainment. Each of the vendors chose a classic children’s book, and created an activity and booth inspired by the story.

Naomi Gillick, communication specialist for the coalition, said that for some children, the event introduces them into the world of books.

“For most children, actually, this is the first time they even opened a book and read,” Gillick said. “So, for us to be able to put on activities and encourage them to continue their love of reading is just a wonderful thing that we hope to continue for a very long time.”

Characters were available for pictures as they wandered around the event, including Elsa, Rapunzel, Super Why, Cat in the Hat, Pete the Cat, Clifford the Big Red Dog and Curious George.

Bev Doucet, the event coordinator, believes that seeing the characters and participating in the themed activities will motivate youngsters to read.

“All of these stories come to life,” Doucet said. “And our goal is to awaken that curiosity and that incline for these children to start reading and develop a love for literature.”

The event also featured a Pasco Fire Rescue truck to explore, a blood drive and farm animals. Mr. Tommy, a storyteller and musician, performed throughout the afternoon.

Karina Fonslet likes how the event allows the children to participate in diverse activities.

“It gives them a variety of experiences and a variety of different activities,” Fonslet said. “And I don’t have to clean up the mess!”

The sponsors for the event included Staywell, Office of Early Learning, Tampa Bay Parenting, WEDU, Spectrum News, Bay News 9, United Way, Florida VPK and Publix Super Markets Charities. Many of the vendors were businesses and organizations that shared information about their services such as NAMI, the YMCA and local preschools.

The Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties is a nonprofit organization that manages early learning programs for approximately 14,000 children. It has offices in New Port Richey, Dade City and Brooksville. For more information, visit www.phelc.org.