Illustration by Linda Wingerter

Reading Minds

Reading—don’t call it homework. It’s one of the great pleasures of summertime for children, if you can get them started. And institutions from bookstores and libraries to banks and fast food restaurants are encouraging it.

Numerous children’s book authors reside in New Haven, among them Nancy Antle (Sam’s Wild West Show), satirist Tom Tomorrow (The Very Silly Mayor), Marcela Staudenmeaier (Dear Friend), local circus enthusiast Linda Wingerter (who illustrated Pete Seeger’s One Grain of Sand and Linda Ashman’s What Could Be Better Than This? ) and cultural commentator Karen Lynn Williams (Painted Dreams). Just over the city borders you could find dozens more literary connections, such as the late Eleanor Estes (The Moffats), who was born in West Haven and lived her twilight years in Hamden.

None of the various “summer reading challenges” available this year have local-content requirements, but many local bookstores and libraries give youngsters a chance to interact with some of their favorite authors and characters. New Haven Free Public Library has brought popular authors such as Grace Lin to town, and R.J. Julia Booksellers (768 Boston Post Rd., Madison), the premiere independent bookstore in New Haven County, is welcoming a Connecticut author, Tommy Greenwald, who’s written a children’s book about children’s reluctance to read. (Greenwald will be signing copies of Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit at 4 p.m. on August 15.)

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Some individual schools in New Haven hold special parties at the beginning of the school year for students who kept lists of what they’ve read over the summer. One New Haven elementary school gives out homework passes and invitations to special lunches with the librarian.

Statewide, there’s the Governor’s Reading Challenge. It’s one of the few reading “challenges” which is actually competitive. Schools tally the number of books and the number of pages read by their students, notify the State Department of Education (860-713-6762) and hope to be honored as the school with the highest participation, the most books read per student or the most pages read per student.

Some reading challenges reward young readers with more books. The Yale Barnes & Noble Bookstore gives out a free photocopied “Summer Reading Imagination’s Destination Reading Journal” which, when filled out and submitted to the children’s book department at the store (77 Broadway, New Haven), wins the reader a free book from a list of nearly 20 that includes classics such as The Mouse and the Motorcycle, The Phantom Tollbooth and a Spanish-language edition of Curious George, as well as non-classics such as George Brown, Class Clown #7: Attack of the Tighty Whities and the novelization of the film Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.

Other incentives to read involve cold hard cash. Through Sept. 29, children who read ten books over the summer can even get $10 deposited into a new or existing Young Saver Account at TD Bank. (There’s one at 994 Chapel St., New Haven; 203-786-5027.) Among the books the bank recommends in its Summer Reading Program brochure are some perhaps unsurprisingly money-themed ones: Make Four Million Dollars by Next Thursday by Stephen Manes, Money Trouble by Bill Cosby and A Dollar for a Penny by Julie Glass.

Even the Applebee’s restaurant chain (whose Connecticut outposts include Orange, Wallingford and Plainville) gives a free kid’s meal to kids who’ve read ten books—you can see details and request forms here.

The biggest local kids’ reading extravaganza of summer, however, comes courtesy of the New Haven Free Public Library, which has been scheduling dozens of events under the theme “Dream Big: Read!” That slogan is shared with the Governor’s Reading Challenge, and was expanded at some of the New Haven branches to include guest speakers talking about their careers. A seven part “Booktivities” series at the main branch finished earlier this month and included such topics as “Look Whooo’s Reading! Owls and Other Nocturnal Animals!” and “The Tooth Fairy and Other Night Time Visitors!”

For the library’s Dream Big: Read! 2012 Summer Reading Club, children keep reading logs, but also keep track of the number of hours they’ve been reading. They can pick up small prizes at the library for every couple of hours they’ve read. When they’ve reached 10 hours of reading, the kids can enter a raffle, held during a special season-ending Summer Reading Club event on Friday, August 17 from 2-3 the Children’s Books department of the main (Ives) branch (133 Elm St., New Haven; 203-946-8129). Raffle prizes this year include a Kindle Fire and a Nook Color. Besides the raffle, the end-of-Summer Reading celebration also includes refreshments and a performance by kids’ entertainer Mr. G.

Sunnie Sette, the new head of the Children’s Books department at the Ives library, sees the trends in what kids are reading come and go, and is impressed with the staying power of some of them. This summer, she says, “the Rick Riordan books—the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series—are still huge. Dora the Explorer picture books are still very popular. And the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books—we can’t keep the copies on the shelves. That’s a good problem.”

Written by Christopher Arnott. Image courtesy of Linda Wingerter.

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