'WE WILL, WE WILL READ'
None of the children joining in on the chorus last Tuesday morning outside the Cove Library had even been alive when the original song first appeared.
And no one probably ever imagined this verse:
"We will, we will read books!"
It was time for the weekly meeting of the library's summer reading program Â— a kaleidoscopic hour of song, dance, crafts, quiet book-reading, treasure hunting and checking out books for the week ahead.
Karen Campbell, a retired Cove school teacher, started out encouraging a group of girls in practicing a hula dance, questioning what hand movements might tell a story about rainfall or wind.
As more children arrived, some with moms in tow, the subject switched to Oregon.
"What's the state rock?" (The thunderegg.) "Anyone remember the state bird?" (The western meadowlark.) "Who knows the state insect?" Campbell questioned (The Oregon swallowtail butterfly).
One of the themes in Cove's program this summer is learning more about Oregon, even as the kids explore other places. It's been an education even for Campbell and her assistant, Rochelle Hamilton.
"Did you know that Oregon has a state mother? She was Tabitha Moffatt Brown," Campbell said, "and she brought her own wagon across the Oregon Trail when she was 66 years old."
With about 15 children gathered, it's time to get the day's activities under way, this day focusing on Hawaii.
Hamilton, dressed in a tropics-inspired blue dress covered in while flowers, brings out an armload of leis.
Passing them out to each of the gathered girls and boys, ages about 4 to 12, Hamilton and Campbell explain that leis are used to greet friends in Hawaii Â— the two urge the children to try the custom with each other.
Cove's program, with individual differences, is repeated at libraries throughout the county each summer.
Sometime in early summer, the libraries urge children to sign up for the reading program, announce the summer's theme, and plan activities.
For La Grande, Union and Elgin, the program runs through June and July. Cove's will end this week.
For several years, the volunteer program leaders have taken their cues from the Oregon Library Association's summer program, using lesson guidelines and loaner materials to enliven the weekly gatherings.
This year's theme, "Read! Discover! Explore!" presented a large palette of possibilities to libraries, but some years the focus is much narrower.
Vicky Bruce, children's librarian at the La Grande Public Library, didn't choose to use the library association's program this year, but did last year, when the theme was "Bugs!"
"We usually use our own (theme)," she said.
But Bruce did say that the prepared materials from the OLA are often useful for smaller libraries that use volunteers, or add the children's summer reading program to the regular duties of a library staffer.
Such was the case this summer in Elgin, where librarian Theresa Chandler added the summer reading program to her other duties. She used the theme to focus young readers on animals that were along the route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
But Elgin doesn't have weekly session for the 75 children who signed up, Chandler said.
Instead, youthful readers estimate how many books they'll read during the summer, and keep track each time they come to the library, whenever they come in.
"We do it as an on-going program, with a finale at the end," Chandler said, explaining that her library doesn't have any room for a large gathering of children. This year's final gathering for the summer readers involved making birdhouses and putting together journals, just like the explorers did, she said.
Elgin does use the T-shirts provided through the library association as prizes for the top readers, she said, but as for the prepared lesson plans, "we use a little bit of it."
To encourage the summer readers, both Cove and Elgin this year used a treasure hunt idea Â— each week the Cove kids hunted out a stuffed beaver, while in Elgin children sought the stuffed wolf hidden somewhere in the library Â— finders received a ticket for a chance at a free swim pass or a small trophy.
In Union, the summer reading program is part of the year-round work of the U'n'I on Reading volunteers, librarian Eileen Bowles said. They also use the OLA materials, but this summer while Cove children explored a different country each week, Union children focused on discovering more about American Indians.
For all the libraries, though, the future is questionable, although not immediately causing worry.
For many years, the library association has offered the lesson materials and loaner program for free. But with rising costs, the plans for next year are to ask participating libraries to pay $200 for the program, Bruce said, rather than depending on OLA sponsors to cover all the costs.
No one is quite sure what Union County libraries will do next year, beyond being sure that there will be a summer reading program of some kind.
Bruce notes that for at least one more year, all area libraries have a chance to get small grants from the state's "Ready to Read" program.
"It's not a lot," the children's librarian said, "but everyone who applies gets it."
La Grande uses that money to pay, in large part, for the summer reading programs and has already applied to receive funding again next summer. "It helps us a great deal," she said.
The summer reading programs at all the libraries help keep youngsters using their reading skills through the summer, Bruce noted. This year, La Grande's program had 240 youngsters sign up and 155 complete the program, with a total of 4,781 books read.
Back in Cove, the littlest readers are inside picking out books for the week ahead while the older readers are outside under the trees using fishing line and shells to make bracelets.
Campbell and Hamilton keep the questions coming.
Does anyone know what made the Hawaiian Islands? That's right, volcanoes!
When it's time to leave, every child takes home a lei, a shell bracelet or at least a few individual shells, and books.
Lots of books.
Story and photos by T.L. Petersen of The Observer