NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On Saturday, June 21, the New Brunswick Free Public Library (NBFPL) kicked off its sixteenth annual Summer Reading Program for kids and teens, and its second annual program for adults.

From 1-3pm, people of all ages came to the basement to sign up for the programs, with a turnout that was “at least as good as last year and probably much better,” according to Children’s Librarian Tamara Richman.

The long-running Summer Reading Program for kids and teens is designed to help children in the community associate reading and books with fun and pleasure.

“Our program is based on personal choice and fun,” said Richman.

Unlike teachers, who want their students to read certain books or assignments, the NBPFL librarians encourage them to read anything and everything they set their minds to.

“Cereal boxes are just fine, too!” Richman lightheartedly confessed.

How can this be? It seems the only requirement for participation in the Summer Reading program is for kids, teens, or their parents to keep a log of what they read each day and for how many minutes.

At 5-6 years of age, when many children are expected to begin reading, their brains may not yet be developed to the degree required to ‘decode’ phonemes and graphemes (units of language which every literate mind can inherently understand) through no fault of their own.

Because young children might not be mentally equipped to read at the age they are expected to, many young people tend to associate reading with unpleasant experiences—such as demanding teachers or unsympathetic parents and peers.

Therefore, the cereal box addendum, stating that any level reading material children are comfortable with is valid for logging time, may be just what is needed to get youngsters passionate about their reading.

“Children need to read anything and everything in order to learn and think and reason,” Richman confided

Reading, she believes, is what teaches people to accept multiple “right answers” in life instead of absolute truths.

Free reign of books is not the only thing that will get participants excited about logging time: they can also win prizes.

Richman told New Brunswick Today, “The more time they spend reading, the more prizes they can earn. Our prizes include: coupons from Barnes and Noble and an invitation for the child and two guests to attend our end-of-the-summer party.”

Getting children enthusiastic about reading is not the program’s only goal.

And a party of special magnificence it will be, catered generously by Old Man Rafferty’s and featuring a waterslide, carnival games, and its own collection of prizes. It will be held on Saturday, August 16, and is invite-only.

The program’s other endgame is to reduce the so-called “summer slide,” the length of time out of every academic year that students spend recovering what knowledge has slipped away during the carefree summer months.

The goal, according to Richman, is “to combine science and math learning along with summer reading” in order to combat the summer slide.

It helps that this year’s theme is “Fizz, Boom, Read!” for the young children and “Spark a Reaction!” for teenagers, meaning that although they still have free pick of books, they are encouraged to read material that could inspire a passion for the sciences.

Science is also the theme of this year’s Adult Summer Reading Program, according to Principal Librarian Hsien-min Chen. The adult program kicked off on the same day as the other two.

“We’re approaching it as many different types of science, from food science to mathematical science, it’s such a broad range,” said library intern Jodi Silverman.

“After all, science includes more than mad scientists standing in the corner and blowing things up.”

The adult program works much differently from the kids’ and teens’, however.  Instead of logging hours, participants will post digital reviews of the books they read—after acquiring website log-in information at Saturday’s kickoff.

“This gets the community involved in the reading process,” Silverman said. “This way we hear a real person’s thoughts, not just what the gods of literature say.”

Posting book reviews is the online adult equivalent of logging time for prizes.  Every review gives the reader an entry into a bi-weekly prize drawing.

According to the library’s website, the adult program will also include lectures, workshops, and science-fiction themed movie nights.

New Brunswick Today recently reported on another library-hosted workshop catered to adults, one that sought to educate about landlord-tenant relations and small-claims courts.

So the Summer Reading Program is not a book club—although there is a science-fiction themed book club beginning at the NBFPL on Wednesday, July 2.

Suggested books for adults in the Summer Reading Program include “The Physics of Star Trek,” by Lawrence Krauss, and “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life,” by Barbara Kingsolver.

Like the kids’ and teens’ programs, the adult Summer Reading Program will go out with a bang—Chen said the library will host “a science-fiction themed party at the end of the summer.”

Library representatives did not explain how they celebrated the end of last year’s program, when the theme was Ground-Breaking Reads—any book about dirt or roots was fair game.

Editor’s Note: The author of this article is responsible for starting the science fiction book club meeting on July 2.