There were battalions of bats at Washington Public Library last Saturday, but they weren’t hanging from the ceiling or swooping down from the rafters. They were construction paper bat hats adorning the heads of happy children who listened to stories and toted books they checked out at the “liftoff” for the library’s summer reading program.

Proud parents and grandparents took photos of their little ones after they got their faces painted in the new children’s plaza on a picture-perfect weather day. It was an atmosphere of surefire fun at a newly renovated library that’s a dream come true.

The event was an overwhelming success and a couple of things made it even more memorable. “There were so many fathers and entire families there, and everyone was so enthusiastic about the new building,” Ruth McInnis, the children’s librarian, said.

The summer reading program’s “Dream Big, Read!” theme features the art of Brian Lies, an author/illustrator known for a series of picture books featuring sand and surf bats, batty bats at a ball game and more literary fliers in “Bats at the Library.”

The summer’s sure to be a high-flying adventure at both Washington Public and Scenic Regional libraries where there are activities for readers of all ages, even opportunities for grown-ups to earn awards for reading a certain number of books.

As if anyone needs an incentive? How many of us relish the guilty pleasure of sneaking in some quiet time with a novel or sensational nonfiction title? There’s no better way to wile away a vacation than being on the beach with a page-turner or zipping across state lines, an un-put-down-able bestseller on your lap, with your significant other at the wheel.

A passion for reading is a marvelous legacy to pass down. Parents who take their children to the library, who model their love of books and read to their offspring give their children a priceless gift. And research shows that summer reading programs help students retain reading skills they’ve acquired during the school year.

To assure this happens, Washington Public Library “restructured” its summer reading program a few years ago to “promote developing the daily habit of reading. This consistency makes reading the most beneficial,” said city librarian Nell Redhage.

The library’s program now encourages reading for six weeks, at least 20 minutes a day for young readers, and 30 minutes for teens in sixth grade and above. Tots and babies can participate as well. These little ones can be read to, and the allotted time can be broken into segments.

Reading logs are provided and prizes are awarded, and at the end of six weeks participants who complete their reading logs earn a T-shirt, McInnis explained.

She added that children can sign up for the reading program throughout the summer because there are family vacations, and perhaps visits with grandparents, to fit into busy schedules.

Children also can take part in The Missourian’s summer reading program, a complementary program to the libraries’ and one that offers additional incentives. Summer Reader Booklets, that include details on those incentives, as well as schedules for reading activities at all the libraries, can be picked up at any library, Missourian office or Bank of Franklin County branch.

The Missourian publishes a special youth feature each week, and children ages 6-13 who read the feature can clip and paste the weekly icon onto their entry form.

This summer’s program focuses on good books about folks who weren’t afraid to dream big that are available at our libraries.

The reward for completing the weekly reading log is a free ticket to the Washington Town and Country Fair.

All of the summer activities at the libraries are sure to make the staff feel a bit “batty” from time to time, but you’ll always get a warm welcome. We are fortunate to have so many resources to encourage reading and enthusiastic librarians willing to go the extra mile.