Library officials’ goal is to make reading a staple in children’s lives.

Cyndi Brewer, youth services manager for the Ottawa Public Library, encourages people of all ages to read every day.

“We want to create lifelong readers,” Brewer said. “We really encourage reading during the summer because it is very important to not lose those skills you have worked so hard to build during the school year. I really encourage teens to read. This is the time they can read for fun. This is their time they can read what they like. Once they become a reader, they are a reader for life.”

The summer reading program has been a can’t miss event for awhile. Brewer estimated about 500 people participated in the program in past years. Last year, right at 400 registered at the summer kickoff event and about 330 attended the end of the summer program pool party. The 2019 program theme is “A Universe of Stories.”

Brewer said participants who reach 10 levels of bookmarks or turn in 17 tickets are eligible for the pool party.

The summer program kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday in the library parking lot, which will include a big party and registration. Brewer said there will be bounce houses, popcorn, games, frisbee golf and Prairie Paws Animal Shelter will bring animals promoting their reading to animals program.

“We encourage all the families to come,” Brewer said. “Everyone can sign-up for summer reading. We have summer reading from birth all way up. We have a program for under-3 where they can come to our story times, get a prize and participate in summer reading. Ages 3-12, we have a bookmark where they can mark their progress as they read or are read to. They can spin our prize wheel and get a prize. Ages 12-18, we have tickets they can fill out and we do a drawing every week for cool prizes they can pick from. The adult program is for those 18 and over. They have tickets to fill out every time they read a book. Everyone [can qualify for] a party at the end of the summer.”

Library officials visited elementary schools to prime the event.

“They are all excited,” Brewer said. “We visited Lincoln School for their morning announcements [this week] and they were excited to see us and get a chance to start coming to the library and have that time to spend with us doing activities and reading.”

Brewer explained the reading program spans eight weeks. Children (3-12) have 10 levels of bookmarks to complete during that span. She said each bookmark requires the participant to read five books and attend three activities.

“They range from coming to a program at the library to taking a walk, picking up trash in your neighborhood, creating a meal for your families, just different activities to choose from,” Brewer said.

She said those that complete the 10 bookmarks early doesn’t mean they are finished for the summer.

“There is an 11th bookmark they can get to continue the program,” Brewer said. “We want them to keep reading that whole eight weeks. When they complete that extra bookmark, they will get a yard sign saying they are an Ottawa Library reader.”

The teen group (12-18) has grown each year. Brewer said about 100 participated last year.

“We have a lot that come and read and hang out,” Brewer said. “We have lots of board games and puzzles. We have a lot of activities and classes, a robotics class and cooking class. We have some sit, read and complete a whole bookmark while they are here.”

Library officials work with daycare providers and other organizations to give all children the opportunity to participate.

“We coordinate with different daycares in town to make it easy on them,” Brewer said. “The ORC summer play group, we have a day they can come. Every day we have a free meal from 3 to 3:30 p.m.”

Library officials moved up the start of the program last year after finding the break between the end of school and the start of the program was too long.

“We always used to start on the first Monday after Memorial Day weekend,” Brewer said. “A few years ago, school got out really early. It was a good three weeks before our summer reading program started. We had a lot of families arriving at the library wanting to know what activities were going on. They wanted their kids to read. We realized that was too big of a gap. They are ready as soon as school is out to keep in that routine. Last year, we started the weekend after school got out.”

This year, the kickoff is just a few minutes after the final school bell rings for the summer.

“Let’s start the week with a party right after school,” Brewer said. “They can celebrate the last day of school and the start of summer reading all at once. It works great because we run our program for eight weeks. It puts us ending the second week of July right before the fair. We find there are families that are busy with the fair and plan their vacation after that. We had some families that could not make it to our end of year party because they were on vacation or ball tournaments.”