This summer, every time Josiah Bridges reads a book he will add a marble to the statue in the middle of the Blackstone Memorial Library.
Bridges will finish his third-grade year later this month. He is looking forward to reading books about superheroes and dogs this summer. Not only will this structure keep track of Bridges’ progress, but Carly Lemire, head of youth services at the library, said, “we wanted to have a physical representation to show how much the whole town has read.” Each week, the library will post an updated photo to its Facebook page.
Joe Kobylanski (pictured), who lives in Branford, designed and built the structure, which is intended to resemble the mezzanine reading room in the library. Every time a child reads a book, he or she can send a marble down one of the chutes. Assistant Superintendent Mary Peraro explained that these marble piles are also meant to represent the marble columns in the Library.
“We want to fill up the entire cylinder,” schools Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez said. “You could read at the beach, you could read in the bath tub, you could read at the dining room table.”
In order to showcase the marble-counter and celebrate the beginning of summer, on Saturday, the library hosted the first ever Branford Summer Reading Kickoff. It featured representatives from a number of Branford public schools and care centers. “We all have different programs, but we want to make sure everybody knows that we all work together,” Library Director Karen Jensen said.
At the beginning of the three-hour event, two local authors read their books aloud. Frank Dormer (pictured) read his books Sosquatch and The Obstinate Pen to a gathering of seated children and parents. Later, Leesan Villa read The Angel on Top of the Tree to the same crowd.
Hernandez also spoke briefly to attendees. “The common denominator is our children,” Hernandez told parents. “We want to read as many books as possible this summer.”
The library itself has created a summer reading program for students in kindergarten through fourth grade and also for older students. Each week, students are encouraged to check in with the library about what they have been reading. In addition, there will be a weekly raffle of gift certificates, according to Lemire, and towards the end of the summer the library will raffle off a kindle fire. The library selected science as this year’s summer reading theme.
Fourth grader Cole Graver is planning on doing the summer reading challenge this year. He is interested in mythology and hopes to read books by Rick Riordan.
Branford schools have taken a similar approach. According to Janet DeMaio, a teacher at John B. Sliney elementary school, schools have started to put an increased emphasis on nonfiction reading.
“The emphasis is going toward nonfiction to get kids ready for certain tests they’ll be taking that are nonfiction,” DeMaio said. “In the lower grades it used to be fiction.” With the adoption of the Common Core Standards, there has been a move toward this type of reading, DeMaio explained.
However, teachers are still encouraging kids to read fiction books. At the event, DeMaio and other teachers from Sliney School created a board titled “Reading with Your Child” with tips on reading fiction for parents.
Last year, Branford schools also started using the MyOn program, a website that allows students to access more than 5,000 online books. “We try to keep it simple and engaging and relevant,” Hernandez told parents and kids on Saturday.
Other centers in Branford also strive to keep kids reading over the summer. Stephanie Linke, the director of the Child Development Center in Branford was at the event to provide information to parents: “We have different ideas for parents and information about different programs we are doing.”
Michele Krumenacker, the executive director of Branford Early Childhood Collaborative (BECC), explained that although the BECC doesn’t have formal summer reading programs, “We support any of the summer reading camps. If they need books we will provide books for them.”
Other groups set up tables outside of the library, including Camp Invention, a non-profit elementary summer program; Read to Grow, a non-profit in Branford that encourages literacy and reading; and Branford Family Resource Center, a child care center in Branford. Branford School Aged Child Care, Willoughby Wallace Memorial Library, and Branford Education Foundation also helped to host the event.
The library provided several additional activities for children. Michael Ferraro, a retired schoolteacher, who works part-time at a button shop, helped kids design and make buttons. In addition, teachers from some of the Branford schools set up an area for students to play with magnets.
“The event is important to bring children together of all different ages to see that reading is fun and enjoyable from the very little all the way up,” Krumenacker said. “It is great for them to see that kids are reading at all different ages.”
Although the majority of attendees were in the kindergarten through fourth grade age range, sponsors still hope to reach out to older kids. At the event, the Library provided required summer reading lists for high school students.
Later on in the summer, Branford Public Schools and the Branford Education Foundation will host “A Midsummer Night’s Reading” to encourage kids to continue reading throughout the rest of the summer. At this event, there will be a science storyteller and the top readers will be awarded medals on the town green.