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Nearly every library in Maricopa County is participating in this year’s Summer Reading Program, “Tails & Tales.”

The program started June 1 and continues until August 1. The theme for this year, “Tails & Tales,” was chosen to encourage readers to explore the lives of animals. Participants will learn new topics by “reading, completing challenges, attending virtual events and participating in community experiences,” according to a Maricopa County Library District press release.

“The Summer Reading Program is a great way to keep kids learning, engaged and ready for the next school year. It is not only fun, but it is one of the county’s major community literacy efforts,” said Jack Sellers, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, in the release.

The main goal of the Summer Reading Program is to help stop the “summer slide.” Summer slide is commonly defined as a decline in academic performance and skills that can occur while students are not in school. Another goal of the program is to promote literacy and community outreach among children, teens and adults.

“Active reading is really important, but we need to have community experiences to get kids out into the community to build upon their knowledge,” said Jennifer Brown, County Library District Projects and Partnerships manager. “Background knowledge and experiences are important because if they’re reading a book that talks about something that they’ve never experienced, it can be hard to comprehend what's going on.”

The program encourages readers to read 20 minutes a day to earn points. One point is earned for each minute spent reading physical and electronic books or listening to audiobooks. Participants can also earn additional points for attending virtual events, completing online challenges and finding secret codes outside of the library, according to the press release.

The challenges are put together by staff at the libraries and partner organizations to inspire readers to read books that fit the theme of the year. By completing challenges, readers get points for the minutes they spend reading and additional points for reading the specific books from the challenge.

Virtual events are shown on the online portal where readers track their minutes. Readers who participate in weekly virtual events are given extra points toward their end goal. Virtual events include participating in activities ranging from painting tutorials to watching educational performances like “Jungle Jill.”

Community experiences are another way the libraries are encouraging readers to experience new things in the community. The library system partners with museums and other businesses to encourage participants to get out into the community. By visiting participating locations and finding secret codes, readers can earn extra points and digital badges. A complete list of all the available community experiences can be found in the summer reading online program.

Once readers reach 500 points, they have the option of receiving a free food coupon from various participating restaurants. After reaching 750 points, participants can receive a pass for an Arizona State Park. Readers who achieve a total of 1,000 points can choose between receiving a free book or donating one to a local Head Start classroom, according to the press release.

“Lifelong learning is something we strive to achieve in our libraries,” Brown said. “Summer reading is not just for kids. We want to break people out of their comfort zones and give them options to continue to learn.”

For more information or to sign up for the reading program, go to maricopacountyreads.org.