- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2001

Local librarians insist that the sweltering months translate into ripe reading opportunities for children — that is, when the youngsters drag themselves away from the playgrounds and baseball diamonds. So area libraries are sweetening the deal for young readers by offering incentive-laden programs to keep children reading without a teacher's nagging.
Diane Monnier, senior librarian at the Bethesda Library on Massachusetts Avenue, often finds families gathered among her building's many nooks, huddled together around a book or three.
"It's a cool place to visit, in more ways than one," Ms. Monnier says.
The Bethesda Library works with the statewide "Summer Reading 2001: Buggy About Reading" theme, dedicated to preschool and elementary-age readers.
It's part of the long-running Summer Quest program, an umbrella title used by many local libraries to inspire young readers.
Participating children set reading goals for themselves, then earn a Barnes & Noble gift certificate if they meet them. The loosely structured program lets children monitor their progress via colorful, bug-themed activity packs.
Children also select "kids picks" books to alert peers about the best reads of the summer.
Ms. Monnier says Montgomery County libraries expect 30,000 elementary and preschool children to participate this summer, up from 28,000 last year.
"We're not seeing a whole lot of reluctance on the part of kids," she says.
The healthy numbers, Ms. Monnier says, reflect the positive attention that reading is getting in the media.
"We're hearing about the importance of it locally and nationally," she says.
The District of Columbia Public Library also entices young readers with the "Buggy About Reading" theme, but it adds music, skits, poetry and animal visits to its 27 city branches as an extra incentive.
The library's Web site says it hopes to double enrollment in the District's program from last year to 7,000.
Many parents turn to their neighborhood library to supplement their home-based reading, says Kristi Beavin, supervisor of Children's Services at Arlington Central Library.
With warm weather, not to mention video games and the Internet competing for a child's attention, one might think reading gets short shrift. Think again, Ms. Beavin says.
The veteran librarian recalls summer reading programs in the early '80s attracting about 200 local children a season. Last year, about 1,200 joined, and she expects similar numbers this year. Students have until the end of July to join the program.
Libraries aren't the only source for free reading programs. Zany Brainy, a national chain of 187 children's shops, has run a summer reading program for the past six years. This year's program, called "Make Friends Reading," runs through Aug. 2. More than 100,000 children have joined the King of Prussia, Pa.-based chain's program since its 1995 start. The sessions are broken into age groups, starting with the youngest readers gathering on Monday evenings with the age groups escalating as the week progresses. Characters from some of the featured books pay visits to the stores through the summer.
Among the activities planned are making friendship necklaces, creating and keeping sketchbooks to record their observations, and engaging in trivia contests.
Children's reading trends tend to shift faster than Madonna's sense of fashion, but Ms. Monnier notes that the Harry Potter books have spiked interest in fantasy literature. Other popular series among the preteen set include Dav Pilkey's "The Adventures of Captain Underpants" and Mary Pope Osbourne's "Magic Treehouse" books.
"What we're promoting is, read anything and everything … read, read, read all summer long," Ms. Monnier says.
Attendance in area library programs may be robust, but not every child is eager to join the rush, says Vanessa Roff, an Alexandria resident and mother of four.
Mrs. Roff, who visited Alexandria's Charles E. Beatley Jr. Library recently to pick up new reading material, says it's a chore to get her children to crack open a book.
"I want them to develop a love of reading," she says. "We have to apply, ahem, substantial pressure" to get them to read.
"I thank God for programs like this," she says of Summer Quest.
Mrs. Roff sneaks literature into her children's lives via books on tape.
"I want them to experience … the flow of the language," she says.
Deanna Birdyshaw, associate director of the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement, based at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, says Mrs. Roff isn't alone in that philosophy.
"A lot of schools have listening centers," she says. "But it has to be only a part of the [reading] experience. It's a passive involvement."
Ms. Birdyshaw says timing may be everything when a parent tries to get a child to read.
"Take advantage of rainy days," she suggests. "Pick the appropriate times. Allowing children to read during extended car rides turns down time into productive time. Forcing children to read before they can play with their friends can be seen as a punishment," she says.
"There's a big difference between taking books in the car … as opposed to saying, after dinner, 'You can't go out until you read,'" Ms. Birdyshaw says.
Reading is serious business, especially in the bigger picture of a child's education.
John O'Flahavan, a University of Maryland professor who works with the College Park-based school's Maryland Literacy Research Center, says parents should take reading seriously during the summer months.
Teachers nationwide commonly report a dip in academic achievement from the first grade to the second, Mr. O'Flahavan says, something that could

be combated by a steady dose of reading.
Byreading, "you're picking up a lot more vocabulary," he says. "That's a huge source of information about the world."
Readers see spelling, grammatical and syntax patterns that stick with them, even if the reading material might be considered fluff or strictly pulp entertainment.
Parents should incorporate reading along with summer picnics and vacations.
"They don't need to replicate a classroom," he says.
Ms. Beavin says librarians have a responsibility to actively engage their young visitors.
"The No. 1 reason they pick a book … it was on a topic they were interested in," she says. "'What is it you like?' is our No. 1 question."
The parents' role in reading is crucial, but she says an outside influence also can help turn a defiant reader into a voracious one.
"Sometimes, children take suggestions from somebody else rather than their parents," Ms. Beavin says. "With reluctant readers, we urge parents to bring them in … and let us work with them."

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