WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Public Library (WOPL) officially kicked off its annual Summer Reading Program with a family-friendly party last Monday, followed by a teen event later in the week.

This year’s nationwide summer reading theme, “A Universe of Stories,” is a nod the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing. In response to this, West Orange native and astronaut Scott Kelly recorded a video that played during the event encouraging West Orange youth to continue reading throughout the summer.

“It is impossible to work in West Orange and not know about the Kelly brothers,” said WOPL Director David Cubie. “Considering that this year was a space them, it was obvious. I reached out to Mayor [Robert] Parisi and he graciously made the introduction. Scott Kelly was nice enough and cares about children and their success enough to participate.”

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Hundreds of kids and their parents attended last week’s kickoff event, which Cubie said typically attracts about 300 participants each year. Activities included face painting, a funky D.J. with hula-hoops, games and prizes, and arts & crafts.

Cubie said the line at the face-painting booth was getting so long that he had to jump in to help and “had a blast” doing so.

“After that, that is all I paid attention to, [but] I had a chance to walk around before then and check everything out,” said Cubie. “I love seeing and hearing all the kids having so much fun, that is really the best part.”

According to library staff, the main focus of the WOPL Summer Reading Program is to encourage children to continue reading even after the school year is over.

Other goals for the kids include developing positive attitudes about reading and the library, maintaining their reading skills during summer vacation, having access to experiences that further their sense of discovery and learning to work creatively.

“[The purpose] is to provide people with things to do that are free, and the air conditioning is very important,” said WOPL department head and Circulation Services member Debrea Sarr. “It is a good way for people to refresh for the year, and put into perspective the library being a fun place. People often think of libraries as studious, but we can show that there fun times at the library.”

WOPL Youth & Teen Services librarian Jane Sawyer added that the summer reading program “brings a lot of attention to the library” because the staff has the opportunity to visit the schools and then the staff starts seeing new faces at the library.

According to Cubie, planning for the summer reading program began six months in advance, with West Orange Public Schools receiving various lists of new books to read for the summer.

“Planning will be as extensive [next year], but the change in theme will determine the look and programming,” said Cubie. “2020's theme is ‘Imagine Your Story’ and will have a Fairy Tales/Mythology/Fantasy theme, so it should be a lot of fun…all our themes are set through 2022.”

For more information about the WOPL and its programs, click HERE.

Joshua Baker is a former West Orange Public Schools student currently working with the TAPinto West Orange internship program.