Summer library program draws children into books


In an article Tuesday about Baltimore County's summer reading program, the address for the International Reading Association was incorrect. The address is 800 Barksdale Road, Box 8139, Newark, Del. 19714.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Jimmy Matthews and Johnathan Wright were just hanging out at the Pikesville Library, reading a few books, roughhousing a little with library volunteer Donald Engel, having a generally good time.

"Every day we'll be here," said Jimmy, a fifth-grader at Milbrook Elementary School. "This is the second time today."

One reason Jimmy and Johnathan, a sixth-grader at Pikesville Middle School, frequent the library is that they live nearby and make it a regular stop on their summer "bike tour." Another reason is the Baltimore County Public Library 1994 Summer Reading Club, which tries to lure children into libraries with programs and prizes for returning every week.

It works. Last summer, more than 24,800 county youngsters registered. This year, the program runs through Aug. 20 at all 15 library branches, and club organizers hope to top 25,000 youngsters, kindergarten through 13 years old.

"Mostly every year I've signed up for this," Jimmy said. "I can't wait until the Oriole Bird comes." That will be next month, when the reading program is winding down. But before then, there are other programs to enjoy and giveaways, such as zoo and restaurant coupons. And all those books to be discovered during the weekly library visits.

This summer's theme is "Sneaks' Alaskan Adventure," with Sneaks the Cat, the program's mascot, and his sidekick, Huffin' Puffin. The two are on a marathon dogsled race across Alaska. Their trail guide is a series of activities issued to each child who registers for the club.

Each week the children visit the library, they can have their booklets stamped and receive that week's prize -- a bookmark, for instance, or a coupon for a free visit to the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

"The whole theory is to provide incentives for a child to visit a library during the summer," said Kathleen Reif, the library system's director of marketing and programming. There is no competition to read a certain number of books to get a prize or to report on the books read.

"We ask each child to set [his] own goal. We don't care if it's one book or 30 books," said Ms. Reif, adding that if youngsters come to the library, reading will follow.

Educators believe that if children read as few as six books, they should be able to maintain their reading level over the summer, she said. Children who don't read at all are likely to lose ground because reading is a skill requiring practice.

Youngsters who read poorly are apt to fall farther behind than average or above-average students are because "they rarely practice reading enough to really master it" and more easily "lose what they've only partially mastered," Larry J. Mikulecky, an Indiana University professor, wrote in the Journal of Reading.

Youngsters who reach their club goals will receive purple ribbons with a smiling Sneaks on them and a pat on the back by the Oriole Bird. When they go back to school, they'll receive certificates, too.

For about 10 years, county public schools have been partners with the library in promoting summer reading, said Pam Henderson, who is in charge of the summer reading club. Many elementary and middle schools preview the club before school is out and then hold awards ceremonies for readers in the fall. Reading teachers and assistant principals also act as advisers.

"They will give me ideas for activities or what might be popular with the children," said Ms. Henderson, who works on the reading club year-round. Most important, "They get the word out."

Another draw is Sneaks, who started promoting summer reading in 1986 and "has taken on a life of his own," said Ms. Henderson. "The children call it the 'Sneaks Club.' " Although the librarians may have tired of Sneaks, they recognize its popularity and this year invested in two professionally made costumes so that Sneaks would look extra spiffy for his public appearances.

The library recruits middle school students, who may think they are too old for the Sneaks Club, to be volunteers, registering members and giving out the weekly incentives. Last summer, about 460 student volunteers gave 9,000 hours.

"They are a tremendous help," Ms. Henderson said. Some put together lists of recommended books for the younger children.

Pikesville High School junior Donald Engel has been a library volunteer for three years, working at least once a week during the school year and more often during the summer.

"Sometimes I like to talk to them about their books," said Donald, a fan of science fiction.

Ninth-grader Eli Allen has nearly completed the 75 hours of community service required for high school graduation by volunteering last summer and again this summer at the Pikesville branch.

"It's fun," Eli said, and there's a fringe benefit: "I get to read a lot."


Baltimore County children can sign up for the 1994 Summer Reading Club any time before Aug. 20 at any county library branch.

Club members may have their "trail guides" stamped weekly at any branch, not just at the branch where they register. Call your local library for more information.

The library also offers one children's story a day on the "Dial-a-Story" Storyline: 887-6161, 24 hours a day.

The International Reading Association has compiled a booklet of tips for parents who want to encourage their children to read. For a copy of "Summer Reading is Important," send a self-addressed, stamped, business-size envelope to: International Reading Association, 800 Barksdale Road, Box 8139, Newark, Del. 09714.

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