I will never forget my first trip to the library. It was in the fall of 1953, shortly after we moved to Bend. Jean Webster, my first-grade teacher, walked the class from Thompson School past Trinity Episcopal Church and across the street to the Deschutes County Library. We all got library cards that day, and I fell in love. I've never fallen out.
Libraries are wonderful things for young children, and in an era when too many kids aren't really ready to learn when school begins, libraries can and do fill the gap.
Consider some of the things going on at the Deschutes Public Library system this month. The system includes six libraries, including two in Bend and one each in La Pine, Sunriver, Redmond and Sisters.
The next two weeks will see a total of about 40 programs in those branches aimed at kids from infancy through kindergarten. And while infants clearly cannot read or follow many stories all that well, they can do other things that are part of the library program. They like rhyming, repetition and motion, and all those things that help them get ready to learn to read.
Slightly older kids think nothing's better than sitting on a parent's lap and listening to a story. In fact, the library and reading experts say, even the youngest children benefit from being read to, whether they understand the stories or not.
In addition to on-site programs, the library is chock full of stuff that can help a parent help a child get ready to read at home. Its website, deschuteslibrary.org., has a broad range of suggestions on how to turn everyday activities into time that actually advances a child toward successful learning.
We don't grow out of our need for libraries as we head off to school, either. The Deschutes libraries offer homework help for teens in the form of information about databases, fiction and nonfiction books and Web resources tailored to individual teachers' assignments.
Most important this time of year, the library has a variety of programs planned for the summer months when school is out and students are most likely to lose ground in their reading skills. Summer programs begin June 15.
“Dig Into Reading” is aimed at kids from infancy through age 11 and it offers free books, coupons for pizza and ice cream, games and family activities. This year the Bend Masonic Lodge has donated two bicycles and The Center two helmets for younger readers. “Dig into Reading” will also be part of summer events at the Jefferson County Library in Madras and at the Crook County Library in Prineville.
Deschutes County teens, meanwhile, have a program of their own, “Beneath the Surface,” which includes everything from free books to an after-hours party at the downtown Bend library to reduced-price tickets for a library night Bend Elks baseball game. Older readers will be eligible to win a Google Nexus tablet.
Long before there were studies on getting kids ready to read, children knew the value of books and libraries, if 20th-century novels are to be believed.
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” written by Betty Smith and published in 1943, includes a scene after a visit to the library, when young Francie Nolan sits on a fire escape to enjoy a new book from the library. Her love for libraries and the books within them never wavers, despite a librarian who, Francie knows at the ripe old age of 11, doesn't like children.
A few years newer (it was published in 1954) and aimed at children, Edgar Eager's “Half Magic” opens with a discussion of the local library and the wonder of summer, when the four child heroes can check out 10 books instead of three and keep them for a month instead of two weeks.
I cannot imagine a better way for a child — or an adult, if she has time — to spend great chunks of the summer than with a book. Books take a reader out of himself, out of his own world and his own time into a place he's never been with people he's never met.
Good books give readers a way to exercise their minds and imaginations in a way no computer game or video ever could. If you want, for example, “Gone with the Wind's” Rhett Butler to look like Leonardo DiCaprio rather than Clark Gable, he can.
Deschutes County's libraries are full of good books, as are those in the other counties of Central Oregon. Summer is the perfect time to take a cue from Francie Nolan or “Half Magic's” Jane, her brother Mark and her sisters Katharine and Martha and discover just how much they have to offer.