Area libraries look to entice patrons with ‘adventures,’ not just books

Summer reading challenges aim to build lifelong readers

Launching throughout Lake County, summer reading programs aim to engage more than just young minds.

With offerings such as story strolls and walks in the park, interactive puppet shows and musical events, the programs are keeping young bodies active as well.

In-person activities have been limited at many libraries the past couple of years as a result of the pandemic, so library officials are diving back in this summer. And patrons seem to be responding.

“The whole point of the summer reading program in general is to bring communities together,” said Sean Gilmartin, head of Youth Services for the Round Lake Area Public Library District. “The pandemic especially has separated families and separated the community. Having an event like this, it brings families together. It’s making sure kids have access to books they feel comfortable reading.”

The programs strive to combat what’s known as “summer brain drain.” Studies repeatedly have shown that when children read during the summer they are able to maintain their learning levels from one school year to the next.

Getting kids to read, especially during the summer, often takes incentive.

The Round Lake library recently hosted “Brent Allan & Friends Present Welcome to Camp Iwannareedabuk.” Featuring “puppets, stories and silliness,” the event served as sort of a kickoff to the district’s summer reading program. Weekly activities are planned.

Like most libraries, Round Lake’s program includes a theme – ”Good Books, Great Adventures” – and prizes for participants along the way and once they complete the program. The library switched from tracking the number of books patrons read throughout the summer to the number of minutes spent reading, Gilmartin said.

“It’s just a little bit more inclusive so that families that read together can record their minutes,” he said.

Reading goals in Round Lake are set by grades, with toddlers through second graders reading 300 minutes, third through fifth graders challenged to read 600 minutes and sixth through eighth graders aiming for 900 minutes.

Along with in-person programming, the library offers a virtual option for families to sign up online and use an app to track their reading minutes. Prizes range from free books and goodies such as gift baskets to a grand prize of a family membership to Brookfield Zoo.

With the theme of “Follow the Path to Adventure,” the Wauconda Area Public Library’s summer reading program includes pairing up with the Wauconda Park District to offer a Story Stroll in the Park.

Patrons are encouraged to follow story boards, or signs, created by the library that lead them page by page through books on paths at parks this summer. Through June 17, Larkdale Park features the book “Do Like a Duck Does.” Story strolls are planned in July at Fieldbrook Park and in August at Sedgebrook Park. Along with reading the book as they go, participants often are tasked with doing an activity at each story board.

“It’s just encouraging families to get outside and take a walk around,” said Beth Christianson, recreation supervisor for the Wauconda Park District. She also oversees early childhood, preschool, youth and cultural arts programming.

“The library is wonderful enough to donate the books and get the boards put together for us,” she said. “We promote it and go out and set it up in the parks.”

A similar program, called StoryWalk, is offered through a partnership between the Gurnee Park District and the Warren-Newport Public Library. In July, the book “Call Me Tree/Llámame árbol” will be featured at Hunt Club Park in Gurnee. As part of its “Read Beyond the Beaten Path” summer reading program, Warren-Newport also regularly hosts outdoor storytimes.

Interactive events like these are a priority at area libraries, library officials said, especially when it comes to summer reading programs.

Along with signing up for the Wauconda Area Public Library’s summer reading program in person or online via an app, young patrons can take part in daily activities such as Find the Fox, said Patty Gmitrovic, Kid City programming coordinator for the library.

Children are challenged to find the library’s mascot, a blue fox, hidden with the building. The library also offers crafts, games and incentives such as coupons for ice cream cones.

“It’s becoming very popular again,” Gmitrovic said of the summer reading program and activities. “All those little things entice the kids to keep coming back to the library. Especially since COVID, a lot of kids have lost that drive. We want them to keep reading. We don’t want them to lose any of what they’ve gained during the school year. Building young readers helps them be readers for the rest of their lives.”

Also themed “Read Beyond the Beaten Path,” the Fox Lake District Library’s summer reading program lets families decide their reading goals, recommending more than 500 minutes of reading this summer, said Hannah Marschall, head of Children’s Services for the library.

Patrons are rewarded midway through and for every 100 minutes they read, she said, with individual prizes – food coupons, books, stickers, pencils and more – and the chance to win a grand prize of camping-related supplies.

“When they read, they gain so much. … Instead of taking a break completely from school for summer, we want to have a fun way to keep them learning and we believe that’s through reading,” Marschall said.