Buoyed by aggressive promotion - and a wave of interest in books generated by the fourth installment in the Harry Potter series - libraries statewide say they enjoyed significant gains in the number of children participating in their summer reading programs.
In Baltimore County, participation was up 5 percent, to 27,194, with 10 of 16 branches reaching all-time highs. At the Catonsville branch, 29 percent more children participated this year than last. North Point had a 23 percent rise.
Other counties reported similar increases this summer, the first year that all Maryland library systems - as well as the District of Columbia - used a common summer reading promotion, the latest version of a program created by Baltimore County in 1985. The program focuses primarily on elementary- age children.
"There's a push from adults, and kids are driven by what they find to be a great opportunity for reading," said Bob Hughes, spokesman for Baltimore County Public Library. 'Parents, teachers, librarians, child advocates and even neurologists are promoting the concept of how important reading is for young children."
Hughes is among those who credit the popular Harry Potter children's fantasy novels with drawing children into the library. "Those books alone have generated tremendous interest in the concept of reading," he said.
But other authors - some of whom have been around a long time - continue to generate enthusiasm among young readers.
In Anne Arundel County, where summer reading program participation increased 7 percent, to 19,202, children were requesting books by, among others, Beverly Cleary, Johanna Hurwitz and David Macaulay.
Cathy Butler, area supervisor for Anne Arundel libraries, said a large proportion of children in the summer reading program are in grades three through five. They prefer authors such as Paula Danziger, Gary Paulsen and Scott O'Dell. Butler said the popularity of these authors is enhanced because they continue to write books.
To get more children into its libraries, Anne Arundel sponsored more than 200 family activities at its 15 branches in a seven-week period. They included shows at the Maryland Science Center and the Baltimore Zoo and by magicians and library staff members.
"We want them to see the library with new eyes," Butler said. "It's not just for doing homework during the school year."
Carroll County librarians worked with the school system to promote summer reading. Connie Wilson, outreach services associate manager, said librarians developed summer reading lists, which were distributed to each pupil in the county with fliers for the summer reading program.
"We help support the schools in their efforts to keep students reading over the summer," Wilson said.
The library offers awards for schools with increased participation in the reading program. This year, eight schools will receive plaques. More than 10,000 children participated in the program.
In Baltimore, officials at Enoch Pratt Free Library said participation was up from last year's total of about 11,000 readers, although final numbers are not in.
"There's more emphasis on continuing school-related activities in the summer," said Ellen Riordan, children's services coordinator at the Pratt. 'Parents and educators are looking to do that."
While the Harry Potter books were popular with older children, Riordan said, younger children continued to favor such classics as the Curious George books by H. A. Rey, the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel and Dr. Seuss titles.
The Pratt also is among libraries that have a "read to me" category for prereaders, in which parents kept track of each book shared with a child.
In Howard County, participation in the summer reading program increased by 100 children this year to 8,000. Many libraries enlisted the help of local businesses to provide incentives.
Howard also was among those -that went out of its way to attract middle school participants. For young people who completed the program, "we had six separate parties with pizza and karaoke," said Hope Chase, head for - children's and youth services.
Several library systems praised - the summer reading promotion used statewide, titled "Reading Rhythms.' Libraries used the same game board to track children's reading and offered similar incentives such as key rings, stickers, pencils and kazoos.
"I really believe that the state-wide attention has helped our program," said Butler.
Riordan also was enthusiastic. "The state cooperation is really terrific," she said. "We're collaborating on something because it's important.
The increased participation in this summer's programs leaves librarians optimistic. "This shows - that when there are so many things for children to do, we can still generate excitement about summer reading," Wilson said.