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New York Reading Programs Show Results - 2001-08-14

All across New York City teachers, librarians and community leaders are promoting programs to encourage children to read during their summer vacations. The efforts seem to be working, and New York libraries are as crowded as its baseball fields.

The New York Public Library says interest in reading is soaring, especially among elementary school children. According to Library officials, more than 60,000 children participated in the Library's summer reading program last year. The youngsters read 180,000 books up 46 percent from the previous summer and librarians expect the figure to climb even higher before children return to school this year.

New York State Assemblyman John Ravitz began a summer reading challenge for the young in his district nine years ago. The idea grew out of concern by local teachers that reading skills would slip if students were not reading on a regular basis during the summer recess. "So we put together a summer reading challenge," he says, "in which we ask parents and kids over the summer months to spend 25 minutes to a half-hour a day over a 40 day period reading together and having an opportunity to see that books can be fun."

Mr. Ravitz says he wants young people to discover that reading is pleasure, not just an assignment. "It can stretch their imagination," Mr. Ravitz says. "It can take them to places that they never thought they could go or might never visit and also spend quality time with someone in their family."

Chatham Square Library in the heart of New York's densely populated Chinatown is the busiest branch of the New York Public Library. Every day during the summer months, groups of children come to the library with summer school groups or their parents.

On Fridays, Victor Chan brings a group of 17 children from the Chinese Planning Council's after school program. During the summer months, the children spent the entire day in the CPC program. "They like coming," Mr. Chan says. "It helps reading. It improves their vocabulary. It improves creativity. Actually, I am assigning a book report for them to do during the weekends so they are going to do all the work at home."

So what is the younger set reading? Librarian Shannon Belford says the youngsters have varied taste. "Harry Potter is still really big," she says. "Dragons. Mysteries. Ghost stories. Anything that we put on the summer reading list is popular because they feel like it is a recommended book."

Seven-year-old Tammy says she loves the Library because reading books is fun. "I like to find some books that I like to read," Tammy says. "This summer I like to read some Captain Underpants books. It is about a man and he is a principal and sometimes he becomes Captain Underpants."

Lilly is almost 9. Her favorite book? "Humphrey the Lost Whale." "It is a true story," she says. "Humphrey was swimming. He was supposed to go to the sea. He was supposed to go right but he went left. But the last part is a happy ending. Now he is not lost any more."

Ms. Belford says in addition to receiving a library card and book mark, the children are encouraged to use the computer and participate in music programs and discussion groups. "We also have a 'read aloud' program," she says, "every day at 2 o'clock and we have different people from the branches, either the children's librarian or other people who have been specially trained. It is about a half-an-hour program. It is upstairs in our story time room every day of the summer. Saturday's are very popular."

At the end of the summer, the local libraries host a party for the children who have participated in the reading program. So does Assemblyman Ravitz, inviting the children who participate in his program to an awards ceremony in his district office. "What I find very exciting now going into our 10th year," he says, "is that I now have my second generation of kids coming in. These were kids who were too young to participate but would come to the award ceremony that we do and watch their brother or sister get their summer reading certificate award and now they are participating in the program."

Mr. Ravitz says more than 500 young people have received Excellence in Reading Certificates through his office. Like the Public Library, he encourages young people to repeat the program every summer.