With about two weeks left for summer reading signup, students in the Gail Borden Public Library District are far outpacing prior registration records.
About 6,000 kids signed up last year and already almost 8,100 have accepted the Reading is So Delicious program challenge this summer.
Kate Burlette, director of library experiences, said organizers have tried a number of new strategies to get kids involved, including remote registration sights like the Book Bus and reaching out to parents enrolling their children in kindergarten.
During Kindergarten Round Up, library representatives distributed handbooks for families with daily activities preparing kids for school and then held a Dora the Explorer party for the children who registered for summer reading.
"It was a wonderful opportunity for us to get families involved at the very beginning of children's education," Burlette said.
And the success of the outreach is plain in the numbers.
More than 2,000 kids younger than kindergarten age are signed up this year with 4,216 students in first through fifth grade, 1,482 middle schoolers and 299 high school students.
When students stop reading during the summer break from classes, a gap forms between them and those who keep up their reading skills. Burlette said it's a cumulative problem that adds up to create the biggest gap in high school.
While the library has tried to reach out to older students, Burlette said it is hard to get kids involved when they have summer jobs or other activities keeping them busy.
But signup lasts until July 15 and readers of all ages are encouraged to join the program. Once registered, students must keep track of the number of minutes they read. They are eligible for prizes and raffles based on program completion.
Participants who finish the program with their reading minutes outlined in their logs can get prizes starting July 16. Everyone who finishes by Aug. 11 gets a pass to swim free at an Elgin pool, a wristband for free rides at a local carnival and the choice of a paperback book or a bundle of comics and coupons for local businesses while supplies last.
All those who finish before Aug. 23 are also entered into drawings for other prizes, including an iPad. And two Elgin Area School District U-46 schools with top program completion numbers will win an appearance by the Jesse White Tumbling Team.
While the high signup numbers are exciting, Burlette said keeping kids involved all summer and meeting their reading goals is most important. "The ones that finish are going to be the ones that are getting these great prizes," Burlette said.
Visit gailborden.info for event details for the rest of the summer reading program.