Rock out with summer reading

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PITTSFIELD — "Libraries Rock!"

While that's pretty much a true story, it's also the theme of this year's statewide summer reading program across public libraries.

Here in the Berkshires, virtually every community library is participating, and playing with the theme, from hosting live concerts to curating collections of rocks for young explorers to check out.

For the first time, thanks in part to a city grant, the North Adams Steeplecats summer baseball team and Cub Club has partnered with the North Adams Public Library to cross-promote activities, events, and of course, a lifelong love of reading.

Every Sunday night, Williamstown native and rising Lasell College sophomore Duffy Martin pitches a white tent behind the grandstand and invites kids to take part in games, like Twister and corn hole toss, or to draw, to read, or just hang out in the shade.

"I grew up going to Steeplecats games and my family loves the library," she said.

In fact, it was the library where Martin's grandmother found Martin a flier advertising what is now her ballpark gig.

This past Sunday she organized a Literacy Night raffle, giving away packs of eight to 10 paperback books for pre-K to Grade 6 age groups. She also used a budget of $1,000 to purchase books to give away at every event. On non-game days, Steeplecats players follow Martin to local events and the library to interact and read with the kids through a book club. Right now, they're reading the 2008 children's novel, "Savvy," by Ingrid Law.

"Sometimes kids need an incentive to read and that's fine, as long as they're reading," Martin said.

April Varellas of Adams, whose sons are more involved in the Steeplecats games than their playful younger sister, Eris, said having the Cub Club tent and Book Club program is a nice option for families. "I think it's awesome," said the mother, "and it gives the little kids something to do."

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At the Milne Public Library in Williamstown, Debbie Baker, young adult librarian and children's room assistant, coordinates summer reading events and programs for both younger kids and teenagers. This past Saturday she held an escape room-style event for teens based on a rock concert scene.

She said that as soon as school got out for the summer, the library has seen an uptick in younger patrons.

"We try to get programming every week so there's usually one program for younger kids and one for our teens," Baker said.

The goal is just to keep young people engaged, whether it's by prizes or by offering them the next book in a series.

North Adams Youth Services Librarian Sara Russell-Scholl and Berkshire Athenaeum Supervisor of Children and Youth Services Samantha Cesario both say the issue of "summer slide" remains a real issue for youths.

"Research has shown that kids over the summer, when not actively engaged, can lose all those educational skills they gained over the school year," Russell-Scholl said.

"That's why we're trying to make the point of summer reading to kids that this is a fun activity that can just be time for you," Cesario said. "We're not grading you — you don't even have to tell us what you're reading — we just want you to find something that you love. We're really trying to build that habit so that they can do that on their own, without having an adult pushing them."

At the Berkshire Athenaeum families can also enroll in the R.A.P.P. or Reading As Partners Program for youth who are not yet reading independently. "Children and their caregivers can register together and at the end of the summer they can share what they've read and get a prize," Cesario said.

So far, 10 families are participating. "It's the first year we've done it, so hopefully it will get some momentum and could be something we continue throughout the year," said the librarian.

Cesario and Russell-Scholl both said caregivers shouldn't be frustrated with reluctant readers. Instead, they should try to coax kids and teens into reading through a conversation about their interests and what they've enjoyed reading in the past versus being forced to read certain books or being told not to read things like graphic novels and silly stories, like the "Captain Underpants" series. Even the latter can be gateways to advancing reading.

While some summer reading programs ask kids and teens to track the number of minutes or books they read, Russell-Scholl said their participants are simply asked to track in a list anything they read. "We ask them to write down whatever they're reading — magazines, articles, books, audio books — they're all part or reading. We really try to foster a real love of reading with the kids. So when the kids bring in their journals, we really focus on spending time chatting with them about what they've read and what they like," she said.


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