Children who gathered Saturday at the Tutu Park Mall weren’t just getting a chance to choose a few books to read this summer. The fourth Governor’s Summer Reading Challenge may just encourage some of them to become writers themselves, one participating local author said.
“The V.I. is making a point not just to create readers, but writers,” said Mario Picayo, an author whose science-fiction book takes place in Cruz Bay on St. John.
Picayo was one of the local authors whose books were featured at Saturday’s kickoff event. The featured books were either locally written or written about the Virgin Islands. Picayo noted that the books capture things like Virgin Islands culture, scenery, dialogue and names. Writing personal messages in each book he signed, Picayo said he was excited that the challenge is trying to introduce bilingual titles to the mix.
The Governor’s Summer Reading Challenge encourages students in kindergarten through eighth grade to read five books over the summer, and rewards them for reading more. Readers receive a tracking sheet to record books they read through September 7.
The crowd of more than 200 children and their parents who attended Saturday’s event walked away with more than 7,000 books chosen from the scores of titles available.
“We just want to encourage them to read and improve their literacy. They act like they don’t want to read and then they get here and you see the excitement as they’re going to the tables,” said Merle Vanterpool, Lockhart Elementary School librarian. “They think it’s so much fun. They love it.”
“We’re making sure kids have the opportunity to get books. To let them know about other literacy events and show the importance of reading,” said Sekoia Rogers, a Government House employee and one of the event organizers.
Rogers noted that although preschool children cannot participate in the challenge, books for children 3 years-old and older were also provided.
Children who complete the challenge will be invited to a party at the end of the summer, at which they will win awards and receive certificates, medals and reading and writing materials.
“We were lucky to have this extra selection of books. We want (children) to go to the library, but we like putting books in their hands,” said Alice Krell, literacy initiative volunteer, noting that Boyson barge service volunteered to transport books from St. Croix to St. Thomas.The St. Croix kickoff event had been held the previous weekend.
Children flipped through books with brilliantly illustrated covers while the St. Thomas Majorettes performed in bright polka dot dresses, and even parents seemed interested in the colorful books as they suggested titles to children.
The challenge is open to all students in kindergarten to eighth grade in the territory’s public and private schools. Children can also read books online through the Virgin Islands public library system.
Organizers promoted the kick-off event through social media such as Facebook as well as at schools, on the radio and through the governor’s office.
The program began in 2009 when Gov. John deJongh Jr. challenged students to read at least five books over their summer vacation. First lady Cecile deJongh gave children books for Christmas in 2008, and the following summer, the governor instituted the challenge to keep kids reading.
Children can turn in tracking sheets to public libraries or any office of the governor. Further information about events associated with the Summer Reading Challenge is available by calling Rogers at 774-0001, ext. 4316. Tracking sheets are available online at http://www.readfive.org/.