Stacey Smouse (center) and her two children, Hayden and Hannah, check out books for the Summer Reading Challenge.
Photos by Kevin O'Brien/The Connection
Local schools let out for the summer a week and a half ago on June 23, which is the same day that Fairfax County began its annual Summer Reading Challenge. The program hopes to keep children engaged in reading throughout the summer, so that they return to school in the fall, their reading skills are right where they left off, if not even stronger.
“It has been crazy. Our juvenile fiction section is almost bare. They are devouring the books, it’s amazing,” said Tina Mraz, the Youth Services manager at Dolley Madison Library.
Dolley Madison’s branch is receiving more customers than usual because the Tysons-Pimmit Library is undergoing renovation right now. Dolley Madison provides incentives for the children to complete the challenge. The kids have to read a certain number of books, depending on their age, to complete the challenge, and if they do, they receive coupon books for discounts or treats at a number of area establishments.
Stacy Smouse, whose two children, Hannah and Hayden were checking out books, said, “They loved it because of the coupon book last summer. We used it for a discount at Six Flags and Rita’s Italian Ice. There was a one for McDonald’s and another for pizza; it’s a good incentive that they have to write the books down and then they rate the books.”
At Dolley Madison, though, the children receive something extra that is especially appealing to its youngest participants. “I give them a smelly bookmark, which a lot of the little kids really look forward to. Right now, I have strawberry, watermelon, root beer, popcorn, caramel, orange and s’mores. The little kids love it,” said Mraz.
Dolley Madison has lots of ways besides coupon books of appealing to the kids. According to Mraz, “In July, in our display case, we’re going to have a fun display where the kids can guess the number of toys that are in the display and whoever’s closest to the number without going over wins everything in the display case, so that’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The purpose of the reading challenge program is to create avid readers, which may or may not be easier when friends are involved. Hannah Smouse, 11, is reading a series of books, despite having had some details spoiled by her friends who have already read the series.
“I like fantasy books. There’s a series called A Land of Stories. I’m in the middle of the second one. It’s about two kids, Conner and Alex, they get a book and – it’s kind of weird and exciting – but they get inside the book and they’re in this fairytale land where all fairytales connect,” Hannah said.
The program is not limited to kids anymore, either. For the first time ever, the Dolley Madison branch will have an adult reading challenge. Adults receive a bingo card with all sorts of different activities. For example, the card includes a space to read a classic book, join a book club and follow Fairfax County Public Library on Facebook among other things. Any parent who completes the card is entered into a drawing for a Kindle Fire. It’s a way for the library to engage the whole family in the reading program and make coming to the library a family event.