IT'S TIME to see what Sneaks the Cat is up to this year.
He's the mascot of Baltimore County's summer reading program. This year, all of Maryland's 24 library systems as well as the District of Columbia's will be featuring Sneaks in their own reading programs.
The reason this is important is well-known: Children who read regularly during the summer are less likely to lose their skill when they resume their studies in the fall. That's especially critical for young readers, who are still establishing their mastery of the skill.
The Sneaks program provides libraries with a promotional framework and a variety of rewards for reading. Each participant receives a "tour bag," which includes a game board for charting reading activities, a sticker and craft and activity sheets.
Each library system is then able to customize its own program -- creating book lists and finding sponsors for additional prizes for children who participate. Some of these include coupons for fast food, amusement parks and the Baltimore Zoo.
The American Library Association awarded the county its prestigious John Cotton Dana prize for creating the nation's best summer reading program.
Baltimore County chooses the program's graphic design and then acts as a clearinghouse for ordering material. All of the libraries benefit from a unified marketing campaign and the economies of scale in purchasing prize and printed material.
Sneaks kicks off this year's adventure at White Marsh Mall with singers from the cast of "Annie" at 3:30 tomorrow afternoon. The official start of the eight-week program is June 12. A Gettysburg musician, Ray Owen, will appear in all of Baltimore County's 16 libraries this summer.
Parents should introduce their children to Sneaks the Cat. Making his acquaintance can be rewarding.