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Old pastime reborn in reading clubs

June 12, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Back in the 1950s, before there was anything like central air conditioning or video games or TVs with screens bigger than a dinner plate, my mother spent summer evenings reading to my sister and me.

The three of us gathered on our parents' big bed, and as our old Admiral window fan labored to move the humid evening air of our Washington, D.C., suburb through the house, we listened quietly, in part because to wriggle was to sweat. It was easier - and cooler - to stay still and listen.

A recent muggy evening brought back those memories and since my own boys are in college now, I wondered whether the schools still give out summer reading lists and whether libraries still run summer reading contests. Fortunately, there's good news on both fronts.

A reading list should have gone home with every elementary student the last time they visited their school's library/media area, according to Jim Newkirk, the Washington County school system's elementary reading and social studies supervisor.

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Newkirk said the booklet, entitled "Bond with Books - Reading Brings Families Together," was drawn up by a committee that included two elementary reading teachers and two library/media specialists.

It's arranged so that parents can find books appropriate for their child's age. And if the child is more interested in mysteries than non-fiction, those differences are noted as well.

"Each entry has the name of the book and the author and a capsule summary of what the book's about," Newkirk said.

Newkirk said that parents need to do more than just give children books and a quiet place to read. Even though reading teachers believe that "the more kids read, the better they read," Newkirk says it's important that young readers be more than "word callers."

As he explained it, word callers are children who can read, but really don't comprehend the meaning of what they're reading. Parents can help children avoid that by asking them questions like these about what they've read:

Does the book remind you of anything else you've read? Does it remind you about anything that's happened to you? Does the book describe anything similar to what you've seen on the TV news or read about in the newspaper?

Asked whether there were any books on the list that tie into local historic attractions, like the Antietam Battlefield, Newkirk said there were several.

A book on crystals and how to grow crystal gardens might be a good prelude to a visit to the Crystal Grottoes in Boonsboro, Newkirk said, while "Oceans" by Joy Palmer might be a good book to read prior to a visit to Ocean City.

For more on summer reading, Newkirk recommended I talk to Jeff Ridgeway, children's librarian at the Washington County Free Library. As it happens, the library is kicking off two summer reading clubs this week, with some activities taking place today.

The club for children under 10 is called "Race to Read," Ridgeway said. Those who sign up get a game board with a transportation theme and 24 activities to complete. Children read about boats, trains and cars and for set periods of time.

For the 10 to 13 group, the contest is called "Say What?" and involves more complex tasks, including searching the Internet for information.

To follow through with the transportation theme, Ridgeway has gotten a variety of local organizations to bring their vehicles to the library.

That begins at 10 a.m. today with the Hagerstown Police Department's bicycle unit, whose officers will ride their two-wheelers to the main library on South Potomac Street in downtown Hagerstown.

At 11 a.m., the Hagerstown Fire Department will bring in a big hook-and-ladder truck. And a race car from Hagerstown Speedway will be parked on the patio in front of the library. The Train Room will also set up a model railroad layout on the library's mezzanine, he said.

Those who complete reading club activities will be eligible for a variety of small prizes and one big one, a ticket to the Hagerstown Suns with a discount coupon for parents, for those who complete their tasks by Aug. 10.

The Washington County school system has proposed year-round school for at least some of the county's elementary schools because children forget so much of what they've learned on summer break that teachers must spend the first month or more going over last year's material. Getting your children to ready in the summer - and to think about what they've read - may put them ahead of the game in September.

And if that school reading list never made it home, don't worry. Ridgeway says the main library has plenty of them. It's open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays and from 9 a.m.. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. On Sunday, only walk-in service is provided, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For hours of the branch libraries, call 301-739-3250.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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