HERE COMES SUMMER, and the annual sacrifice of children's bodies and minds to roller coasters, wave pools and the hot glare of MTV. But just because they're throwing down school books doesn't mean they have to throw over the joys of reading, does it?
"Children who like to read usually read more in the summer," says Fairfax County librarian Elizabeth Quay. "And children who normally only pick up books because of school assignments can be persuaded to read for fun in the summer -- because the pressure is off."
Oh, yeah? And just how, short of wiring the kid to the word processor, does one do that?
"There are a lot of ways to pique a child's interest in books besides shoving a book under his nose," says Maria Salvadore, D.C. children's librarian.
One of the best is to bring him or her to places where librarians such as Salvadore hawk their wares -- the local library. There, experts in children's literature are waiting to steer, nudge and encourage your child's reading habits.
Starting this week, most library systems in the area are dangling lures -- movies, storytelling, computers, puppets and live animals -- to get the kids where the books are.
At most libraries in the metropolitan area children can sign up and receive a pamphlet ("Think of it as a passport," says Fairfax librarian Elizabeth Quay) with a wizard's picture on the front and their name on the back.
As they finish a book, they come to the library and write its title and author in their booklet, and fill in blanks with -- oh, boy -- stickers, one for each of eight different categories. A book of jokes, for instance, earns them a "Giggles" sticker; reading "The Hobbit" or one of Lloyd Alexander's fantasies earns an "Other Worlds' sticker.
Each library system has dreamed up companion enticements. Arlington County, for example, is setting up computers at its main library, where children "can write their own book," says program coordinator Deborah Wilerstein. Montgomery County has hired a clown/magician to entertain at many of its branches, and many of the Prince George's branches have hooked up with local nature centers to bring animals to the library. In D.C., the Library Theater -- a live theater group that performs folktales and fables -- will make 40 appearances.
In Fairfax County, the Northern Virginia Soil and Conservation people will be bringing a program called "Pea Soup & Oysters," described as a "hands-on" experience. "I don't even want to know what that means," moans coordinator Quay.
But she talks about ways to use these programs to extend summer reading: "We'll set out a number of books that are related to the program -- something on squirmy things in the Chesapeake Bay, for instance -- and point them out to the children. And if they take them home and look at them, they can come back and earn a sticker," she says.
Children who fill in all the stickers normally earn some sort of goodie at the end of the program -- anything from having their name on the bulletin board to a celebration with cookies and movies.
But the real prize, says D.C.'s Salvadore, is in keeping up reading skills. Stanford University did a study in 1983, she says, "showing that students who read for pleasure in the summer -- even a little -- retained or, in some cases, gained skills." Children who throw down all books outside of school tend to lose hard-won skills, she reports.
Moreover, child psychologists and educators have pointed out the importance of children's reading for pleasure, says Salvadore. "We tend to bore children to death in school," she says, "but if we allow them to read for pleasure, we pique their interest in reading for a lifetime."
For both lifetime and summer readers, there's something really special about owning a book. And a couple of places offer a chance to do just that without a serious drain on the pocketbook.
AKJ Warehouse in Rockville, a paperback wholesaler that feeds elementary and intermediate book fairs in this area and Reading Is Fundamental programs across the country, is having its annual blow-out, half-price, get-'em- by-the-dozen book sale starting this weekend.
"We sell authors like Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume and E. B. White, plus a whole slew of classics, biographies, histories, dictionaries, Easy to Read books, Choose Your Own Adventure books . . . ," says a spokesman. Prices are normally low -- in the $2 to $5 range, typically -- "so we'll have lots of things for $1" she says. "In fact, we'll have a 50-cent table."
Discounts are also available all summer at Bradlee's, which has worked with the Greater Washington Reading Council to pinpoint appropriate books for young readers. "They helped us come up with a list of about 50 titles, some of which we don't normally carry -- people such as (poet) Shel Silverstein and the Berenstain Bears," says spokesman Sharon Carter.
Council member Betty Ann Armstrong also helped produce a brochure the store offers free to customers. It gives guidelines for reading aloud with children and includes the list of recommended books, broken down by appropriate age group. All of these books will be discounted 20 percent between June 16 and August 16, Carter says. In addition, every week the store will take an extra 10 percent off two books -- starting with Jim Trelease's "Read-Aloud Handbook" and Richard Scarry's "Best Storybook Ever."
Between the stores and the libraries, your child should be able to find something to read beside the pool, on the way to the roller coaster or by the glare of MTV. GETTING INTO READING
LIBRARY PROGRAMS -- "Summer Quest '85 -- What a Difference Reading Makes" (a project of the Council of Governments' Committee for Coordinated Summer Reading) is available at Andrews and Bolling Air Force bases and in the District, Montgomery, Prince George's, Prince William and Arlington counties. Similar programs are running in most other Virginia counties. The programs are aimed at, but not limited to, ages 6 to 12. Children sign up at their local library and receive stickers for eight different categories of books read. Films, storytelling, mime, puppets, computers and nature programs will be available in the different libraries. For more information, phone the library nearest you.
AKJ WAREHOUSE SALE -- Saturday from 10 to 3; Monday through June 14 from 9 to 5. Elementary and intermediate school-age children's paperbacks, including classics, biographies, reference works, histories, humor and current favorites, 50 percent off. To get there, take the Beltway to Montrose Exit going toward Rockville. Go across Rockville Pike; make a right on Nebel. Go down three blocks and look for the sign on the right hand side. The warehouse is at 12128 Nebel Street, behind the Miller Kitchen Center. 770-4030.
BRADLEE'S DEPARTMENT STORES will be featuring about 50 children's titles at a 20 percent discount between June 16 and August 16, with an additional 10 percent off on two different books every week. They also offer a free brochure, written by the Greater Washington Reading Council, giving tips on reading aloud to children and a list of appropriate titles for different age groups. Available in the book department.