Summer Is for Readers

Nick Holmes has one of the best summer jobs ever: getting paid to read to kids. While reading for a group of children on a recent July day, Holmes got some of the best payback imaginable.

Working on behalf of the Kansas City Public Library's Summer Reading program, Holmes was sharing a book with a group of kids at Palestine Missionary Baptist Church. As is usually the case with Summer Reading, prizes had been given out to the kids for reading a prescribed amount of hours (up to 12 total), and one of those prizes was a toy sketch pad.

Midway through Go Away Big Green Monster, a girl in the audience wrote a message on her sketch pad and held it up for Holmes to see. 

I love this book, her message read.

Young book lovers at local church activity centers aren't the only kids the Library is reaching this summer. In what is probably the biggest Summer Reading Outreach initiative in Library history, from June 13 through August 5, Holmes and his crew are taking the love of reading to 20 non-Library locations. Their goal: to enroll 2,500 kids in the Summer Reading program.

Working under the guidance of Outreach Manager Carrie McDonald, the team includes De'Borah Hawthorn, Veronica Manthei, Stephanie Iser, and members of the Central Youth Services staff. (Alesha Terry was also on the team, but she recently left to accept the position of Civil War Project Associate.)

Twelve of the target sites are run by the Upper Room, an independent summer program for KC children that has a long relationship with the Library. Other participating organizations include two community centers, two Boys & Girls Club locations, Brookside Charter & Day School, and the Imagine Renaissance Academy.

These sites have become not only new destinations for Summer Reading Outreach but also keystones in the Library's plan for Building a Community of Readers.

"We felt like we'd done a good job of reaching the kids who were already coming to the Library, and we wanted to expand farther into the community," explains Children's Services Director Helma Hawkins.

Last year, a grant was awarded to hire Holmes and allow him to visit five sites, where he ultimately signed up 500 new kids for Summer Reading. This year, Holmes and his team have already signed up 2,250. And they're still building.

But Outreach isn't the only department working to widen the Community of Readers.

The Home Front

Children's and Teen Services workers are also hard at work: taking names, counting up hours read, keeping kids motivated, and - in the case of the teen program - even collecting patron-penned book reviews.

Youth Services has also planned a full summer's worth of programming at all the branches. From live reptile-handling, to puppetry, crafts, juggling, magic, and story times, the programs encompass a broad spectrum, all falling under the theme "One World, Many Stories."

The Library's goal is to get 16,000 kids to participate in Summer Reading. And so far, the numbers are looking solid.

I.H. Ruiz Branch staffer Emily Iorg helped kids create their own maps at a recent Summer Reading activity.

Not counting the numbers from Outreach, Youth Services has chalked up more than 5,600 children participants so far. Hawkins expects that figure to grow significantly toward the end of the program as more of the branch numbers roll in.

Meanwhile in Teen Services, Director Crystal Faris reports that  teens have submitted 1,100 reviews of books they've read. The teen program, it should be noted, is being conducted very differently this year. Rather than ask teens to keep reading logs, the Library is inviting this group to submit their own book reviews via e-mail, text, Facebook update, or printed card. Each review earns one Library Buck plus an entry into a drawing to win a netbook computer at each branch.

"We decided to do it this way at the request of teens," Faris explains. "Several of the teens who gave evaluative feedback last year wanted something different from what the kids were doing. They didn't want toys - they wanted Library Bucks and a drawing for something big."

Faris says that the Library's teens enjoyed writing book blurbs for Teen Tech Week this past March.

"We struck their fancy with the idea of texting in a book review and getting something back from it," Faris says.

So far, the Summer Reading reviews have ranged from "detailed and beautiful" to, shall we say, honest?

Case in point: "Late last Friday night, one of the teens texted me and said, 'Hey, it's Joe. Read Twilight. Why does this book exist?'" Faris relates. "So I texted him back and asked, 'Why did you read the book?' He replied: 'Girlfriend.'"

Keep up with our teens' reading adventures on the Teen Blog, where reviews are being posted on a weekly basis.

And stay tuned to LibraryLand for more hot updates from Summer Reading 2011.

-- Jason Harper