Librarians are enticing children to read with elephants' toothpaste, fizzy fountains, potato alarm clocks —and a volcano or two, now that school is out and the 2014 Summer Reading Club is underway at the 19 branches of the Baltimore County Public Library.
This year's club, running from June 16 through Aug. 10 is not only awarding more prizes to children for reading more often. It is celebrating "the wonders of all types of science."
That translates into scientific demonstrations at the branches as well as opportunities to participate in fun scientific experiments.
"We'll get the kids involved in experiments that may be too messy for moms and dads to feel comfortable doing at home," said librarian Rich Sigwald, club coordinator for the Towson branch.
He's talking baking soda, vinegar, peroxide, dish detergent, food coloring and Alka Seltzer.
Accordingly, "Fizz! Boom! Read" is the club's 2014 slogan for younger kids; "Spark a Reaction" for the older kids.
The summer reading club is a nationwide cooperative project. The theme is different each year. "We're constantly trying to update the program because children are constantly changing and their digital literacy is improving each year," said Elizabeth Rafferty, BCPL youth services specialist.
"We want to make reading fun for kids of all ages, so they will be motivated to read and to develop positive attitudes about reading and books," she said.
While the goal may be to make kids "lifelong learners,"the more immediate benefit is that children who join the summer library program keep their minds active and enter school in the fall ready to learn and ready to succeed," Rafferty said.
With that in mind, Baltimore County Public Schools partners with BCPL to publicize the program. This year's theme ties in nicely with the emphasis schools are placing on science, technology, math and engineering, dubbed STEM in the school system.
More than 53,650 kids — 5,000 more than the previous year — were registered for BCPL's last year's summer's reading club, including 5,276 at the Cockeysville branch, 4,347 at Towson and 544 at Loch Raven.
The total number of participants has increased each year since the club's inception in the early 1980s.
About 3,500 of them showed up at the Cockeysville branch last year during the first two or three weeks, said librarian Matt Kiefer, who is co-coordinating the branch club this year.
"That's the greatest challenge," Kiefer said. "The kids all come at once. But there's so much excitement and enthusiasm, it's totally fun."
Kiefer and coworkers Diane Bobo and Nechama Frier have been tasked with decorating the branch so it "pops."
Look for an attempt to grow crystals involving sugar and salt, construction of a volcano at the risk of carpet stains and a performance by the "incredibly popular" magician Mike Rose, whose magic is tied in with science, Keifer said.
The Towson branch will be dealing with its own volcanos and fizzy fountains, and the classic elephant's toothpaste experiment, which begins with an empty Coke bottle and ends up overflowing and oozing with a white steaming foam that resembles toothpaste in quantities an elephant might require.
Sigwald has no illusions about hosting the proverbial party to which nobody came. "My greatest concern this summer is that we may have so many kids that we will be overwhelmed," he said.
The Loch Raven branch isn't big enough to accommodate formal programs, but the summer reading club is alive and well there, according to branch Manager Melissa Hapler.
"We don't necessarily have a plan," she said, "but if the kids are here we come up with something."
"You never know what's going to happen at Loch Raven. We are fostering a love of reading but also a love of the library. It's not just about the prizes. Kids just enjoy being here," she said.
Registration for the summer reading club is absolutely free. However, BCPL subsidizes the cost by selling T-shirts each year. Priced at $7.50 and $8.75, the shirts feature a logo showing BCPL mascot Sneaks the Cat involved in some adventure that reflects any given year's theme.
This year Sneaks is in a lab wearing safety glasses, relishing a bubbling beeker, and looking maniacal.
The club tailors its offerings and packets to three age groups — teens (sixth grade and up), elementary school students (kindergarten to fifth grade), and children from infants to 5.
"It's especially important for pre-readers to have books read to them so they can develop early literacy skills and be ready to learn to read when they enter school," Rafferty said.
Partcipants and/or their parents can sign up at anytime during he summer online at bcpl.info/summerreading or by visiting a branch and picking up a packet. Those who sign up early have the chance to win prizes throughout the summer.
Those who submit an entry by the June 30 deadline can win one free admission to Rocky Point or Oregon Ridge Beach or a $15 AMC theater gift card.
Meeting the July 14 deadline makes them eligible are eligible to win $15 gift cards for Chipotle and for Best Buy. Meeting the July 28 deadline puts them in line for $15 gift cards for Target and for Old Navy.
The Aug. 11 deadline gives them a chance to win a Kindle Fire HD 8GB or a $15 Barnes & Noble gift card.
This is in addition to the small prizes they can chose by completing their reading assignments, including baby books, clown nerdy glasses, a water wheel hour glass and a robot claw hand.
"It's hard to corral a bunch of school-aged kids and make them read," Hapler said. "You have to make it fun."