BY Molly Congdon
CLIFTON PARK — On June 30, Clifton Park was host to a full assortment of caped crusaders, all striving to improve their skills and ability to save the day by completing hero training camp.
Everywhere you turned you bumped into Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Ironman, Captain America, Spiderman and Mr. Incredible. In fact, wait a minute, was that the same Superman that was snagging materials for some new wrist cuffs a moment ago? There were a couple different versions of each one of these heroes, plus many soon-to-be-named mercenaries of the masses in attendance at the Clifton Park Halfmoon Public Library for the kickoff event of the Kids Summer Reading Club Program.
“Every year the Collaborative Summer Library Program assigns a theme to brand a collective reading effort at public libraries across the country,” Head of Youth Services Melinda Taormina said. “This year’s theme for young people — ages 3-4, we call them Tadpoles — is: Every Hero has a Story! The same theme is used for the middle-grade readers, who are entering grades K-5 in the fall.”
These kids are the individual patches that together make up the quilt of the Summer Reading Club.
Teenagers, in grades six through 12, will be using a sub-theme: Unmask!
“I believe it has been going on since the early 1970s; it was much smaller back in the day, as were our buildings and staff,” Taormina said. “We had a story-time and just a few special programs, such as a concert and puppet show. We also trained a few teens each summer to work with parents and conduct small story-times in their neighborhoods, called ‘Backyard Readers.’ ”
Last week’s boot camp put the budding heroes to the test — it was an obstacle course full of numerous challenges. They had to hurdle over buildings, have the muscle to lift a bar loaded with enough metal plates to scare off a heavyweight champion, maintain balance while walking over red, fiery flames, topple brick edifices — which seemed to wince at each swing — with Thor’s hammer and vanquish notorious villains such as the Green Goblin by covering them with colored gossamer threads of Silly String.
“Now I’ve got you!” one little Batman cried. Then, with one final spray from the can he shouted: “Die!”
Prior to this winding path of proving oneself, each hero was given a cape, a mask — which each could decorate as they desired — and shiny cuffs to distinguish themselves from the regular humans.
There was an emphasis on a fusion, a bonding of reading and fun.
“Summer Reading is important for so many reasons, but the most pressing reason is also the most documented: There is a measurable summer slide of reading and vocabulary retention among children who do not read for the two months they are out of school,” Taormina said. “By promoting summer reading — and offering suggested titles and fun reasons to visit the library — we can try to stave off this slide. It is also important for parents to have unique, fun, enriching programs for their children over the summer. Free time is great, but sometimes a little structure and the opportunity to learn about others, and about ourselves, through literary programs and reading, is so enlightening.”
She continued: “All of our programs are supervised, age appropriate, and free! We are able to offer so many programs with a staff of five full-time Youth Service librarians and one half-time librarian assistant, and due to the efforts of the entire library staff — in so many ways, everyone contributes to the success of the large effort that is Summer Reading Clubs.”
Aside from putting their abilities to the test, the miniature heroes were taught the value of healthy eating and parents were provided some easy recipes that would aid both body and brain such as Bean Cheese Spirals, Kid Crunch Trail-mix, Fuel for School and Peanut Butter Bumps.
The preparation for this event began months ago. “We visited many of the Shenendehowa District elementary schools in the spring to promote summer reading,” Taormina said. “We performed a silly skit, which the kids loved because they enjoy seeing adults acting silly, about superheroes such as those who have X-ray vision and can fly versus superheroes such as moms and dads who make our lunch and help with homework, kids who stand up to bullies, people who help neighbors with chores, teachers who help us learn and to reach our potential, firefighters and police who risk their lives every day to keep us safe … We try to make every child see that there is a hero inside us all!”