By Izzy ben Izzy

As part of a summer reading program for children, the West branch of the Berkeley Public Library hosted a show of live animals from around the world on Wednesday.

About 30 kids gathered at the library to see several snakes, a few giant cockroaches from Madagascar, a bearded dragon named Pablo, and a large tortoise named Ivan.

The children ranged in age from five to 10 and were clearly excited as the staff from Tree Frog Treks explained about how cockroaches breathe, how the bearded dragon blends in with its environment and defends itself with its rough skin and spiked beard, how the forked tongue of a snake is used for smelling, and how a tortoise can live for decades.

The kids asked questions about their own pets, wondering why they behave in the ways that they do. Then the kids got to touch and hold the animals. Even the parents, seated on the edges of the presentation, seemed to enjoy learning about the reptiles.

“What we really want is for kids to keep reading,” said Nora Hale, who organized the program for the library’s “One World, Many Stories,” series and who also organizes the entire summer program for Berkeley kids. Creating interesting programs is one way of attracting children to the library.

Each summer, the library encourages reading by hosting a contest of sorts. Children who are in first grade or above choose to read either 10 books, 10 hours, or 1000 pages. They receive a library card if they don’t have one, a booklet to record their reading, a button, and a bookmark. They are required to visit at least 3 times over the summer so that the librarians can check up on them, and as Hale said, to “encourage kids to continue reading.” The kids participating are allowed to choose any books they want, but the staff at the library help them towards ones that are at their grade level.

If the kids complete their reading, they will get a coupon for a free scoop at Fenton’s Creamery and get to choose another gift, including a gift certificate from Pegasus Books, a free game at Albany Bowl, a free ferry ride, and other prizes.

Last year’s theme was “Make a Splash, Read!” which, like most of the summer reading themes, was left up to interpretation. Virtually every library in the country, with the exception of those in Texas, participated in it. Hale said that live animal shows such as this one presented on Wednesday are common.

“The animal program has been well attended and generally terrific,” said Hale.

This was the first “Special Event” of this summer, so the young kids of Berkeley have more to look forwards to, and a whole lot of reading to do!

Izzy ben Izzy is a lifelong and dedicated Berkeley resident, and will be a junior in high school next year. She is excited to be interning with Berkeleyside this summer.

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