Young baseball fans will have a chance to see Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria at the Manatee County Central Library at 11 a.m., Friday, June 9.
This will be the third time Longoria has come to Bradenton to kickoff the Rays “Reading with the Rays — Read Your Way to the Ballpark” incentive-based summer reading program, co-hosted with Suncoast Credit Union, where youth from kindergarten through the 12th grade earn prizes.
For each set of hours a participant reads, they advance to another base of the baseball diamond, earning a prize. If they complete the total 24 hours of reading they earn vouchers for two tickets to a Rays home game.
“Evan is a big draw,” said Ava Ehde, Manatee County Public Libraries’ services manager. “The kids start arriving as soon as the library opens doors.”
When Longoria came to the downtown Bradenton library, 1301 Barcarrota Blvd. W., in 2015 and 2016, more than 1,000 young people showed up to see him and sign up for the Rays program.
“We have been participating in the Reading with the Rays summer program for five or six years,” Manatee County Youth Librarian Renee Stokes said. “We were one of the first libraries to sign on.”
As everyone waited for Longoria to arrive, DJ Kitty entertained the crowd with games and prizes.
Once on the stage, Longoria talked about baseball, answered questions and read several books.
“He stressed that he wasn’t a good reader growing up,” said Ehde, “but now loves to read to his kids.”
Stokes, who coordinates youth programs throughout the county library system, said Longoria’s appearance highlights the variety of the library system’s summer schedule of youth programs.
“The kids need help reading, but it’s not just about reading,” she said. “It’s also having fun and not being so rigid.”
With more than 90 summer programs just for youth offered at the six county library branches, a variety of interests can be satisfied.
For those who want to travel to the Central Library in downtown Bradenton there are several unique opportunities, such as Area 52.
This specially equipped room offers teenagers from 12-18 classes in technology, such as coding, where they learn to build a video game, or use a 3D printer in the Lend a Hand Workshop to develop a prosthetic hand for a child in a third-world country.
At the two branches north of the Manatee River, the Palmetto Library, 923 Sixth St. W., and the Rocky Bluffs Library, 6750 U.S. 301 N, in Ellenton, there are similar programs to keep area youth busy during the summer.
For example at the Palmetto branch they can learn to sew, crochet, work with clay, see a magic show, participate in Taiko Japanese drumming and a number of other fun activities.
And at the Rocky Bluff branch kids of all ages can learn about science in a fun way at the Mad Science’s Fire and Ice Show, learn how to play a didgeridoo, meet up with fellow Pokemon players, or participate in dozens of other programs.
All of the branches have Story Time programs for preschool children.
The reason for providing a summer full of youth activities at the libraries is to provide them with incentives to keep learning, Ehde said.
“We hope to help prevent the summer slide,” she said.
Educators call the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge gains they made the previous year the “summer slide.”
“If you have some students who move forward and some who move back, the gap widens,” said Ehde, who was recently named the 2017 Librarian of the Year by the Florida Library Association (FLA).
Stokes, who has been with the Manatee County Library system for 20 years, pointed out that libraries today are very different from years ago.
“The library has changed,” she said. “We find ways to make kids enjoy reading.
“Kids don’t even know they are learning,” Stokes said, “and they know they won’t have to take a test.”
Another program promoted at the library, the “Harry Potter Choose-a-House Reading Club,” provides the variety needed for young readers between the ages of 8 and 12.
It is a contest that will run from June 1 though July 31 where the reader selects a Hogwarts House, completes three tasks and then submits the information to library staff.
For instance, if the reader chooses the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry house Harry Potter belonged to, Gryffindor, he or she would have to read a chapter book, read a picture book about animals and watch a DVD based on a book.
If the readers pick the House of Slytherin, Draco Malfoy’s house, they would have to read a biography, read a magazine and watch a DVD based on a book.
Completion of all the tasks allows the participant to be eligible for a drawing for prizes.
But by far, the most popular event at the library this summer for county youth will be Longoria’s appearance.
And even if they cannot attend, students from kindergarten through the 12th grade can still participate in the “Reading with the Rays” program by picking up a game card at any of the six Manatee County library locations.
The game card helps the kids track the achievement of their reading goals, and as they reach each of the bases on the game card, they receive a prize.
For three hours of reading, the participant reaches first base and gets a Rays jelly bracelet; for five more hours of reading they are on second base and receive a Rays arm sleeve; and for third base, or seven more hours of reading, a Rays water bottle will be earned.
And for reaching home base with nine more hours of reading, participants receive a voucher for two tickets to a Rays home game.
For more information about the “Reading with the Rays” program and Longoria’s visit to the Central Library, go to the Rays website at www.raysbaseball.com/reading.
For more information about the summer youth programs at the Manatee County Public Libraries visit www.facebook.com/MCPLS or stop by any library branch to pick up a schedule.