Van Noy Library kicked off its summer reading program Saturday morning with a gathering in the children’s reading center.

This year’s theme is a Mid Summer Nights Read - as Fort Belvoir children read they will put scales on “Drake” the dragon.

“The only way he can get his scales back is for the kids to read,” said Roben Closs, Belvoir youth services manager. “I have the scale and the child will write his or her name on it and then we’ll tape it on the wall, and we’re going to do it in order so that Drake’s neck, his body and his tail will be filled in as we go through the summer.”

Infants through rising fourth graders must read 30 books over the summer to finish the program, while fifth- and sixth-graders have to read 15. Children ages 12 to 18 are required to read eight books.

Participants can read any book they choose, from picture books to chapter books to books on CD.
Readers will track the books they’ve read with a reading log they received Saturday.

Each child who returns their completed reading log will get a prize and put a scale on the dragon.

Closs said though infants would have picture books read to them by their parents, the act of seeing their parent read is what is most important.

“From the time they are born, you can read anything to a child because they’re not going to know,” said Closs. “They’re just going to see that mom and dad are reading and that reading is an important thing.”

Children ages 12 to 18 will participate in a separate program called Yon Nav (Van Noy spelled backward). The program has eight sections and each participant must solve a clue then read a book to advance through each section.

This is the third year Closs has been in charge of the summer reading program, having taken the position of youth services manager in May 2009.

She said the number of children to finish the program has increased each year. Closs estimated that 175 children completed the program in 2009, and around 300 last summer. Closs is anticipating another significant increase this summer, as well.

“We’re expecting at least 400 this year,” Closs said.

Van Noy had a partnership with Fort Belvoir Elementary School for several years as a book mobile would go to each village on post and drop off books.

But, due to the school receiving a grant for the S.T.E.M program before the start of the school year, Van Noy can n longer able to do the book mobile.

However, that hasn’t stopped the school from helping Van Noy in informing the children of the summer reading program.

“They have the list of books I created of books that I think the kids might like, according to age level,” said Closs. “You want to be careful, because you don’t want to pigeonhole any kid, you don’t want to say ‘oh, you’re in the second grade so you should be reading this.’ There are some second-graders reading Harry Potter, and there are some second-graders who are very happy reading Dr. Seuss and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Closs said the long-term benefits of children beginning to read at a young age are critical, which is another reason she feels the summer program is so important.

“There are a ton of statistics about 5-year-olds being at a magic age, as far as making sure the child has been exposed to books,” said Closs. “If they’re not reading around level by third grade, there are studies that show those are the kids that drop out and don’t go on with school.”