Audrey Sapirstein gazed admiringly at the new ring she had just placed on her finger.
Standing outside the castle faM-gade of the Towson Library's children's reading area Monday morning, she relished the initial prize she earned through the library's Summer Reading Club.
After pre-registering for the program last week, the 9-year-old Mount Washington resident got busy on the first of four tasks she must complete this summer. The first objective included reading a newspaper, reading with a friend or pet and reading about a mystery, which is in line with the theme of this year's program, "Clue into Reading."
"I like to read," Audrey said, adding that she came to the library before it opened at 10 a.m. and waited with her nanny. "We got here around 9:30 after we dropped my brother off at camp."
Though Monday marked the first day of registration for the reading club, more than 5,000 children had already pre-registered, said library spokesman Bob Hughes. That's the highest number of pre-registrations since the systemwide program began in 1978, Hughes said. The program runs until Aug. 19.
There are programs for four age groups and plenty of goodies for those who sign up, including games, stickers and coupons to such places as Taco Bell and Six Flags.
In the Read-to-Me program, children up to age 5 have 14 tasks to complete with an adult or guardian, such as singing a song or imitating animal sounds. School-age children have four "cases" to undertake, such as Audrey's tasks for elementary school pupils, or reading nonfiction books and writing poems for middle school-aged participants. Completing the tasks puts participants in the running for a prize.
And as a new wrinkle this year, Baltimore County added an adult category to its summer reading program, Hughes said. More than 250 adults pre-registered for the program.
One participant is Francine Zimmerman, who was pulled aside at the Pikesville branch last week by a librarian who encouraged her to register. The 50-year-old Pikesville resident was told she would be a good candidate because of her voracious reading. Since she signed up, Zimmerman has finished three books.
"I read every single day," she said. "I can read a book in a day if I have the chance."
At the Towson Library, several props -- a dangling noose and several mystery books -- adorn a display table where adults can register. By signing up, adults become eligible for a mystery-themed grand prize drawing scheduled Sept. 1.
Hughes said the adult program was added in part to provide an example for younger readers.
"There's no greater incentive for children to read than to see their parents do likewise," Hughes said.
Towson resident Milena Kumcheva, 32, said her daughter developed an interest in reading by observing older kids in the library. During their weekly trip to the Towson Library, Kumcheva registered Mary Elizabeth, 4, for the Read-to-Me program.
"When she sees other children, especially older children, she sees what they're doing," Kumcheva said. "She'll pick up a book, open a book, and stay around them and do the same things."