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Gilpin kids read thousands of books through the summer

If that’s not reward enough, there’s always ice cream!

By Lynn Volkens

It was ice cream for everybody at Gilpin County Public Library’s end of the summer reading program celebration last Saturday morning, August 10, 2013. Approximately 150 children and youth had participated in this year’s program. They certainly held by the program’s theme, “Pop Open A Good Book and Read!” Children’s Librarian Deb Benitez tallied the total number of books read at more than a whopping 2,000 – all within three months’ time. With the start of school rapidly approaching, it was time to wrap up the summer reading program. That meant time to party and draw for final prizes.

Getting signed up for the drawing was top priority as kids and parents entered the library’s meeting room. They strolled past the prize table and giggled at the stuffed gorilla doing a handstand on the piano bench. Then it was time for ice cream. “Will that be chocolate, vanilla or strawberry?” Library Trustee Betsy Beaver, asked as she distributed single serving lidded bowls of Gold Meadow ice cream. Seconds, anyone? Thirds? Parents and other grown-up friends were invited to have a cold creamy treat with the kids.

The Friends of the Library organization funds the program, including the ice cream and prizes. Young readers are rewarded weekly when they turn in their reading slips. It’s then that they face a veritable quandary-what to choose from the ever-changing assortment of items in the lobby’s glass display case. Grieco provides toys, educational materials, cowboy hats, school supplies, musical instruments, “kind of creepy” black plastic rats, feathered ravens, ever-popular squishy “rubber” dinosaur figures, and more. This year there were “door prizes” as well. A table (by the door) held school supplies, toys and other items; each child was allowed to pick two just for attending the party.

When the young crowd began to get restless (the dinosaurs were dueling), it was time for the grand prize drawing. Five of the youngest readers wrapped their arms delightedly around huge stuffed animals (two gorillas, two bears and a puppy dog). “That’s as big as you are,” Benitez called to one little girl who needed a bit of assistance managing her critter. The next age group, elementary to middle school-aged children, had only one decision to make-which of the four various colored iPod Shuffles they were taking home. Readers aged twelve years and up, chose from an iPod Shuffle, a complete (7-book) hardbound series of Harry Potter, or a two-series package of six books which included The Inkheart Trilogy and The Hunger Games Trilogy.

  Children seem to read for pleasure most when they are younger – up to middle-school aged. There’s often a point after that, though, when reading falls off. “It’s hard to keep some teens reading,” Benitez told the parents. “I’m all for bribery,” she continued. Everyone laughed, but Benitez, a former high school science teacher and elementary school principal, is serious. “I still believe it makes you smart to read. Entice your children to read any way possible,” she advised.

Enticing children and youth to read is the goal of GCPL’s summer reading program, and it appears to be working. Grieco’s stack of completed reading slips, turned in by the kids for the entire summer, was thicker than a Denver phone book. Many of the young readers enjoy books simply for the pleasure of the stories; there are some kids in the community who are reading four or five books a week, but even for the kids who love reading for its own sake, it doesn’t hurt to add some tangible fun. So, about the time Gilpin’s winds begin blowing coldest, Grieco and Benitez will sit down to consider another original theme (if they haven’t already) and prepare for next summer’s children’s reading program. By next June, when the 2014 Summer Reading Program begins, they’ll have evaluated and improved on this year’s program, ordered new books and provided suggestions that include age-appropriate books for parents to read-to children, books for children to read to parents, and/or books for independent reading. They’ll restock the prize closet and they’ll put Gold Meadow on notice to “Get the ice cream ready!” Then they’ll eagerly await the week school lets out for the year, and the kids pour into the library. “This is our most successful (and fun) program for kids!” the library website proclaims (www.gilpinlibrary.org). For all of those involved, it’s going to be hard to wait.

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