Move over, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Stretch, Beebop, AC and Red are coming soon to a library near you.
This week, the California Raisins began setting up residence in libraries throughout Fairfax County as part of the 1990 Summer Reading Club for children ages 6 to 12.
"We hope that the popularity with the Raisins and reading will appeal to those children who might not normally come into the libraries in the county," said Constance Freeman, regional children's librarian at the George Mason branch.
Each child who registers for the club will receive a free bookmark and the "Raisin Review" annotated book list, available at all 22 branches while supplies last.
The books are divided into age groups and subject categories, including biographies, science fiction, humor, historical fiction, mysteries, nonfiction, picture books, family stories, poetry and real life.
"There's no drudgery here," said Donna Matthews, regional children's librarian at the Reston branch. We "encourage people to sit down with a book and then get lost in it."
As a reading incentive, participants are awarded a "Cool Card," featuring one of the four California Raisins, after reading three books.
A child who reads at least 12 books becomes a "Top Raisin Reader," earning a certificate and a Raisin sticker with the slogan "Reading is Cool."
County libraries will sponsor more than 300 free events to challenge and amuse area youngsters. Many activities have raisin themes, including "Viva La Grappe," with French stories, songs and games; "The California Raisins Hit the Beach," with shell collecting; and "Raisin' the Roof," with square dancing.
"In Fairfax County as a whole, educators and parents want their children to have the best experience with the library," Freeman said. "We want them to know that reading is enjoyable and not just a chore."
Children should register two weeks in advance for each event. Interpreters for the hearing impaired are available with at least two weeks' notice.
Involvement in the club can improve a child's reading skills by as much as a couple of grade levels, said program coordinator Cathy Chauvette.
"If you improve your reading skills over the summer by reading novels, you're going to improve your reading skills with geography or history textbooks in the fall," Chauvette said.
Brainstorming for the programs began last fall with a seven-member task force that included the program coordinator, five children's librarians and a cable promoter from the library's Channel 44.
Promotional spots will be broadcast on cable, public and commercial television, featuring a Raisin rap song, "Books: Check 'Em Out."
Younger children are not left out of the fun. County libraries are sponsoring a "Read-to-Me" Panda Bear Cub Club for preschool children who are not yet able to read on their own.
"We didn't want to ignore the preschooler, because if we want to have a literate nation, then we need to start as early as possible," Matthews said.
"We want to encourage parents to read to their children; that will make a difference to that child as they grow up."
Participants ages 1 to 5 receive a poster-size panda book log. After a parent, grandparent or older sibling reads aloud 20 books to the preschooler, the child is awarded a certificate and a panda stamp.
The most important legacy of the programs is the bond formed between young readers and their librarians. The club helps dispel the myth of the librarian whispering, "Shhhhh," with her hair in a bun and orthopedic shoes on her feet, Chauvette said.
"Children come back to find out books from the librarian that will mean a lot to them," Chauvette said. "You make real friendships based on a shared book experience and the shared feeling that reading is fun."