By Laura Johnston ~ Southeast Missourian
Even though "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" has young readers turning pages faster than they can fire up an Xbox, it's not the thing that has their attention.
Summer reading programs at area libraries have children interested in all sorts of books, from medieval fantasies to joke books and humorous novels, as well as some classics.
Libraries across Missouri are inviting children to "Laugh it up at your library" this summer in reading programs.
Few of the programs are building off the Harry Potter hysteria, but the release of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" has kept many youth reading this summer.
Josh Cooley, 12, had only 10 chapters of the nearly 800-page book to go Thursday afternoon. But he's also a fan of "The Chronicles of Narnia" series.
Gunnar Dry, 11, also likes Harry Potter but he's not such a fantasy fan that he'd turn down a good mystery. Some of his favorite books are Hardy Boys mysteries.
Caleb Ford and Josh Volkerding are both fans of "The Boxcar Children" books. "You never know what's going to happen next," Ford said.
Morgan McCain likes to read because "sometimes you can feel yourself in the story," she said.
And meeting new characters or visiting new places is part of the adventure in reading, librarians say. When children come looking for a good book, Sharon Anderson, youth services coordinator at the Cape Girardeau Public Library, often asks them about other favorite stories.
"We can find other favorite books to serve as a springboard for something just as good," she said.
Summer reading programs help get children interested in reading at an early age. And many programs include activities or special guests and prizes as incentives.
Many of the special programs and activities at the Cape Girardeau Public Library are geared toward preschool children in an effort to help emerging readers, Anderson said. But there are activities for middle-schoolers and junior high and high school students too.
Preschoolers "get excited about reading and we want them to be excited even before they get to school," Anderson said.
While some Missouri schools offer Accelerated Reader programs during the school year to encourage students to read and rewards them with points, the Cape Girardeau Public Library wants students to log nine hours. Older students, those in junior and senior high school, are being asked to read for 24 hours during the summer.
Students who enroll in the Riverside Regional Library's summer program have to log the minutes they spend reading. There isn't any quota, the idea is just to make sure the children have fun, said Lynn Farrow, children's librarian.
The programs often help draw children to the library who aren't readers, she said.
But that wasn't the case for the Gray family. Brianna, 11, and Joseph, 9, are avid readers. Brianna was the top reader in the Accelerated Reader program at St. Paul Lutheran School in Jackson.
There were times when Brianna's mother, Joanna Gray, would walk by her daughter's bedroom at 11 p.m. and have to tell her to turn off the light and go to sleep. "She just loves to read."
And the family really promotes reading. Both the children are good students, and that's partly because they are such good readers, Joanna Gray said.
Amanda Boswell, who will be a university freshman in the fall, never has trouble finding a good book. She usually has two or three books going at once. Lately Boswell has been reading more of the classics and English authors like Jane Austen and Emily Bronte.
"Pretty much, I always have a book to read," she said. "If I'm not out with my boyfriend or friends or working then I'm reading."
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