Usually the library is a quiet place, but Vicki Howard, 8, could talk as loudly as she wanted at the east Columbia branch.
A henna artist indulged her with a green butterfly on her hand. "I think it's cool even if [the characters] aren't real," said Vicki, an Atholton Elementary School student and member of Howard County's summer reading clubs.
Christie Lassen, head of marketing and public relations for the county library, estimates that about 750 people participated in Saturday's festivities kicking off the summer reading initiative. Activities included henna tattooing, performances, crafts, face painting and tie-dying - that marked the beginning of summer reading club registration.
"I think it's great. We do it every year," said Vicki's mother, Julie. "It gives them a little motivation to keep reading and be at the library."
The Howard County Library sponsors three youth summer reading clubs: "Read-to-me" for children from birth to 3 years old, one for elementary school-age children, and "N2 BKS" for middle and high school students. In all three programs, participants win prizes for completing activities such as "I read outdoors" or "I read a fiction book."
With N2 BKS (shorthand for "into books"), teenagers also earn "book bucks" that they can use to bid for a limousine ride for four with four movie tickets, three games at Shadowland and other items in an online auction in August.
"The library does such a great job of making it fun," said County Executive Ken Ulman, who read Miss Nelson Is Missing! by Harry Allard at the event with his daughter, Maddie, 6.
"The purpose is to get kids reading so when they go back to school they can pick up where they left off," Lassen said.
Anamer Castrello, a mezzo-soprano with the Washington National Opera education program, captured the imagination of the audience with a rendition of Gioacchino Rossini's La Cenerentola, or Cinderella. "This is your throne where you're sitting in the castle," she said, pointing to a library chair.
"We wanted to make sure that we emphasize that opera is a story and we're here in a place where stories are, so we're making that connection," said Stephanie Wright, the Washington National Opera's education and community programs manager.
Later, Pam the Kindersinger also lifted her voice in support of summer reading.
In another part of the library, the reading programs' mascot, Sneaks the Cat, dueled with fencer Gabrielle Galvez in a demonstration from the Baltimore Fencing Club. "I think that any time you flash some steel, little kids pay attention," she said.
Galvez added: "We want our fencers to be good students."
Sharon Stein, the school system's instructional facilitator for secondary education, makes the direct connection between reading and academics. "Reading over the summer helps students maintain their skills, build their vocabulary and expand their prior knowledge," she said.
"It's really helpful for little kids because they [develop] a love of learning, and it doesn't hurt for the bigger kids," said library volunteer Harish Chatrathi, 14, of Clarksville Middle School.
While fewer in number, middle and high school students also enjoyed the celebration. Oakland Mills Middle School eighth-grader Maxen Jack-Monroe came to register for N2 BKS and attend a Slam Poetry workshop with Gayle Danley. "She [Danley] came to my school two years ago. I just wanted to see it again because I was so inspired," said Maxen, an aspiring writer.
"I think, for the most part, they could advertise the older summer reading programs more," she added.
Perhaps the least known of the reading clubs is the adult program, called "Why Should Kids Have All the Fun!" in which grown-ups earn entries in a monthly prize drawing.
"We're trying to make it a real family affair," Lassen said. Besides the formal programs, she recommended that families borrow books on tape or compact discs for road trips.
In keeping with this year's theme, "Reading Road Trip," kids can take a laminated copy of Sneaks the Cat on vacation, and library staff members will post pictures of Sneaks around the world on the library's Web site.
Through the day's activities and the summer's creative programs, library staff members hope that more people will repeat the words uttered by 8-year-old Howard: "I like to read."
Information: www.hclibrary.org, or call or visit your local branch library.