Mekhi Williams, 9 months, and his grandmother, Wanda Tilahun of Baltimore, sign up for the summer reading program at the Arbutus Library June 30. (Staff photo by Sarah Pastrana, Patuxent Publishing / June 30, 2011)

Four-year-old Kameron Tinsley sprinted to the back of the Lansdowne Library to continue reading and doing activities with her grandmother.

Kameron, one of the library's newest members to its summer reading club, had just received a small prize for what she had accomplished so far.

"I like reading," said Kameron, obviously anxious to get back to her activities. "I got a sticker."

"She does like reading," said Candy White-Harris, the girl's grandmother, who takes Kameron to the library at 500 Third Ave. for two hours every day. "Actually, we read two books like five times last night."


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Enthusiasm like Kameron's is exactly why the Baltimore County Public Library system is part of a national reading club, which launched June 20 and ends the second week of August.

Keeping people reading through summer pays off in more than just good times and prizes.

Ann McElroy, the assistant circulation manager at the Arbutus branch, said students who don't read during summer vacation can fall two grade levels by the time school starts in the fall.

"If a teacher has to spend a month or two re-doing everything from the previous school year, it will take a lot longer," McElroy said. "Our goal is to make (reading) as enjoyable as possible."

Baltimore County Public Library spokesman Bob Hughes said last year the club had its most participants since it started recording such information in 1984.

The club had more than 35,000 participants, including 436 from the Lansdowne branch and 749 from the Arbutus branch.

McElroy said in an email sent June 29 that both the Arbutus and Lansdowne branches had already signed up more people than last year and registration continues throughout the summer.

The Lansdowne branch has had 743 people join and the Arbutus branch has signed up 1,594 members.

Gail Ross, the Arbutus branch manager who also oversees the Lansdowne branch, said the Arbutus branch likely drew more participants than last yea due to the fact the branch was closed for two months in 2010 to move from its cramped quarters in an industrial park in Arbutus.

It didn't re-open at its spacious new location on 855 Sulphur Spring Road until August, she added.

"I think our numbers are going to be wonderful," Ross said. "People are bringing their children every day to sign up. We had our hugest, biggest day of the year the first day of summer reading. We had over 1,200 people in here."

To deal with the onslaught of people signing up for the reading club, the two libraries employ about 40 volunteers between them, McElroy said.

Many of the volunteers are in middle school students who can receive service hour credits for their efforts.

They help with registration as well as a variety of other activities at the library.

First-year volunteer Kavya Kavanakudy, a rising seventh-grade student at Arbutus Middle School at 5525 Shelbourne Road, sat at the sign-up table at the front of the library and waited for people to sign up on June 29.

"Usually there's someone else with you and you get to make new friends," said Kavya, who spends between four and six hours volunteering at the library each week. "It's fun to work with the kids because they're always excited."

Whether it's a child too young to read or someone who graduated 50 years ago, every reader who signs up for the free club has the opportunity to complete goals and earn prizes.

The club is broken down into four age groups, each of which has different prizes for various achievements.

Elementary school readers and those younger receive a prize for finishing a certain number activities.

Middle school readers and older are entered in a raffle for various prizes, including iPods, gift certificates and autographed books when they finish the specified number of books.

The prizes aren't always the most important thing, though.

Munita Lebson, a Lansdowne resident, signed up her two sons, Gavriel, 2, and Amit, 3, for the reading club June 29.

Lebson said she plans on bringing her sons, who like books about Dora the Explorer and dinosaurs, to the library every week.

"I'm just looking for things that I can do with them this summer, especially free things," she said as the boys played on computers in the children's area of the Arbutus Library. "This is a good thing to start them because they just love books."

Summer reading club participants by branch in 2010

Cockeysville – 4,163

Perry Hall – 3,184

North Point – 2, 656

Towson – 2,414

Pikesville – 2,387

Essex – 2,232

Catonsville – 2,137

Rosedale – 2,047

White Marsh – 1,733

Randallstown – 1,652

Parkville – 1,500

Woodlawn – 1,486

Reisterstown – 1,478

Hereford – 1,249

Arbutus - 749

Lansdowne – 436

Loch Raven – 168