Before this summer, I had never signed my children up for any summer reading program, because it seemed like a drag to have to keep track of one’s reading. But this summer, I knew Neil would be reading a lot because I was homeschooling him, and Kelly, well, we all know how much Kelly loves reading. So this summer, I thought they may as well take advantage of some programs and collect some prizes.
We ended up signing up for four different reading programs, and originally I meant to rate them for their prizes. But then I realized I needed some perspective. Back in my day, all we ever got at my library reading program was gold stars, and a certificate for the top readers. Every reward from our programs was amazing: it’s just that the programs were different.
The very first one we signed up, almost at the minute it opened to registration was the children’s reading program at our local San Jose library branch. I think it was the most thorough and encouraging of all the programs. Instead of keeping track of the number of books read, it based its rewards on the time spent reading. I had always thought that was tedious, but we got into the habit of timing our reading, and it turned out to be a bit fairer than a book list. After all, Kelly can go through 5 books in 10 minutes; Neil tackled much larger and challenging books like Johnny Tremaine, the King James Bible, and Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows. It was the only program where Neil stayed ahead of Kelly, at least until the San Diego Comic-Con, when Neil apparently abandoned reading to beat Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s, and Kelly caught up. The San Jose library program was challenging: even my avid readers hadn’t completed it until the last week they could collect a prize. But it was friendly enough to allow even slow readers or late joiners to feel rewarded, since they gave a prize for every 6 hours of reading completed. Prizes included magnifying glasses, pizza coupons, and at the very end, a free book from a cart filled with popular and classic titles of a variety of levels.
The Sunnyvale library did the simple book list: after reading 10 books, a child could pick out a free book (and receive an unadvertised pizza coupon as well.) Kelly finished 10 books in a week, but it turned out that the Sunnyvale library wouldn’t let readers get their book until August. I suppose it was to prevent cheaters from signing up repeatedly, but how much of a problem could that be? The one problem with the Sunnyvale library is that the librarians have the conceit that their library is too crowded. My San Jose branch library is more slammed at any moment than their main library at its busiest. My children did get great books (and to be fair, Neil hadn’t read 10 books until the second week in August), but sometimes I think the Sunnyvale librarians ought to spend more time in San Jose libraries before agitating for a new, bigger branch to accommodate their “too many” patrons. After all, we all enjoyed the Sunnyvale library’s summer entertainment programs, especially since we didn’t have to compete for a space in them, as we have to in San Jose.
Kelly was too young for the Barnes & Noble program, since it is only for elementary school aged children. It started earlier than any of the library programs, and only required 8 books read, so Neil had it finished first. It also offered a free book as a prize, and Neil was delighted to get A Wrinkle in Time.
We didn’t know about the Armadillo Willy’s program until we went there for dinner in mid-July. Children between the ages of 3 and 12 who read the same number of books as their age were promised a prize pack. Since we started so late, Neil and Kelly only collected their prize packages yesterday, but wow, what a package they were. Whoever put together the promotion went all out in getting the children everything that could be had: they each received gorgeous folders that each included two sample packages of Jelly Bellies jelly beans, a bunch of stickers, and coupons for free bowling, bubble blowing liquid at the Children’s Discovery Museum, a free cookie and a deli discount at PW Markets grocery stores, free popcorn at Camera Cinemas, and more, plus, naturally, a kids’ meal at Armadillo Willy’s and a big certificate filled in with their names.
I, personally, was delightfully surprised that both the San Jose Library and the Sunnyvale Library added summer reading programs for adults. Naturally, I signed up for both. The San Jose library adult reading program had adults fill out a small slip briefly evaluating the book they’d read. The only guaranteed prize was a coupon for a soda and popcorn at the Camera Cinemas, but every week the librarians drew a prize winner from the completed slips. One week, I won 2 free passes to the Camera Cinemas, which I used to take the kids to the see Underdog yesterday.
The Sunnyvale Library had a book list that was kept at the library, and could only be filled out there. After I read 8 books, I was allowed to choose a title from a cart: I found several books I would have enjoyed, but settled for a most excellent Ann Rule true crime book which I thoroughly enjoyed.
My family would have signed up for any reading program, whether the rewards were just gold stars or a package of kid-friendly prizes. But I am pretty impressed with the rewards you can get just for doing something you already enjoy doing.