The school year may be over, but thousands of avid young readers are signing up for the Summer Reading Club, sponsored by the Baltimore County library.
Sarah Francis of Towson brought her two children, ages 7 and 11, to the Towson branch last week for the club's kickoff event.
This is their fourth year in the program, she said, and although they read on their own, the club "keeps them motivated."
Begun in 1978, the free nine-week program offers rewards for reading, such as tickets for Orioles and Ravens games, and bicycles and helmets. Performances by storytellers, mimes and other artists also draw children to the libraries.
Christy Nymick, 6, whose "favorite thing to do is read," is back for another summer. Her sister Tory, 9, said that she participates "just ... to read more." Both enjoy participating in the club activities.
Neuhen Aon, 6, recently joined the program. His mother felt that it was a "way to participate in a community activity" and to meet other children his age.
The club grew by about 10 percent last year, when 26,749 pupils participated. It has now been adopted by all other library systems in Maryland and Washington.
A $50,000 grant from the Maryland State Department of Education has helped other county systems to follow Baltimore County's example.
The county school system has supported the reading club "to promote lifelong learning and reading," said Della Curtis, coordinator of the Office of Library Information Services.
Schools provide information and help with registration. Neuhen was able to sign up at his school, Rodgers Forge Elementary.
Curtis pointed to research that shows pupils who do not read during the summer tend to be behind when the new school year begins. This "reading achievement slide" can be lessened by programs such as the Summer Reading Club, she said.
The schools and the libraries worked together this year to give library cards to 6,500 kindergartners.
Constant exposure to books is the best way to foster a love of reading, said Lynn Lockwood, the library's assistant director for support services.
Keeping children interested and motivated is just as important, she said. They should believe that "reading really is a joy, not a chore," she said.
The Summer Reading Club runs through Aug. 21. Pupils can register at their local branch any time during the program.