Silas Hutzenbuehler loves a good book, and this summer he expects to turn the last page in “Hamstersaurus Rex.”
The mysterious tale of an extraordinary rodent runs 23 chapters, and Silas, 9, has been reading it bit by bit over the past year. Now, he’s ready to dive into a new selection of books for the La Crosse Public Library’s annual summer reading program, which celebrated its launch Tuesday afternoon with a family carnival.
Waiting in line for cotton candy at the event, Silas and brother Micah, 8, were ready to switch from school to summer mode, swapping math books for humor and action reads.
Accompanied by grandmother Marilee Smith, the pair were among around 500 attendees at the carnival, held at the main branch location and featuring a bounce house, quarterback toss, outdoor bowling and magnet fishing.
Bubbles floated by as kids blew on plastic wands, and tots lined up for the chance to have a flower or rainbow painted on their cheek. An alluring pyramid of lollipops attracted kids to the spin-a-wheel game, while a special inflatable for the littlest jumpers was packed with squealing toddlers.
The event doubled as a introduction for the 2018 school vacation reading program, “The Summer Dare,” running through Aug. 4 and open to ages 11 and under. Along with immersing themselves in books, participants will engage in activities which encourage curiosity, activity and kindness, complete with dares such as trying a new recipe or learning a word in a new language. Each week, a bonus “Double Dog Dare” will be offered, the first of which suggests reading a book with a character who looks or talks differently from the reader.
Kids received a dare sheet at the carnival to mark off their activities, and, upon turning them in, will be asked to complete a final challenge of attending a library event, talking with a librarian or doing an onsite boredom buster, such as a scavenger hunt.
“Our goal is to have kids engaged in the community and learning something at the same time,” said Dawn Wacek, youth services manager for the La Crosse Public Library. “The parents like that the kids are encouraged to do things beyond reading ... and they appreciate the prizes aren’t something that will end up in the landfill.”
Along with receiving a Super Reader yard sign, participants will receive a new book at the conclusion of the program, and their reading efforts will also contribute to a good cause. Once the communal mural in the library is filled stickers, one for each dare completed, the Friends of the La Crosse Public Library will donate $500 to the Coulee Region Humane Society.
“It makes me feel nice that we’re doing this to help animals,” said Elizabeth Shubert, 10, who loves fiction, fantasy and animal books. She and sister Karalei, 9, recently moved to West Salem and expected to be frequent visitors at the library, Karalei planning to check out unicorn and polar bear books.
About 1,200 kids registered for the summer reading program last year, including Matilda, 3, and Ben Parmeter, 8, who were overjoyed by the bounce house and cotton candy at the carnival. Dad Greg expressed appreciation for the creative approach of the reading program, which eschews tracking reading minutes.
“It gives them a goal to work towards,” said Greg, watching Ben take a swing on the giraffe “strongman” game. “They not only get excited about reading, they have these little incentives to look forward to.”
Library archives manager Anita Taylor Doering says the Summer Dare program has an “element of discovery” that keeps young readers engaged, and she was thrilled to see some families get a head start at the carnival.
“I like to see all the smiles,” Doering said. “Some of the parents even have books with them, which is even more awesome.”
Teens are invited to partake in their own summer fun at the library, with a series of activities, from Duct Tape-Palooza to a live version of Minute to Win It, being offered at 1:30 p.m. every Thursday through July 26. Designed for students entering grades 6 through 12, every event will include free pizza.
To register for the Summer Dare, stop by the reference desk at any La Crosse Public Library location or click here.