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Libraries can be summer havens

By Diane Wagner

From movies to magic, banana splits to big trucks, one thing is clear: this is not your grandfather's library system.

The libraries in Henry and Clayton counties have pulled together a wide range of free summer activities to beat the "what'll I do" doldrums, rain or shine.

But Henry County resident Tiffany Richards, 16, brought her 8-year-old cousin Jesse Fendley to the McDonough branch on Thursday for an old staple.

"We just came for some books," Richards said. "I like mainly history and current events, he wants some books on animals."

Fendley, who is visiting from Loganville, loaded up on volumes featuring everything from tigers to sea otters. It was a beautiful, sunny day and he said he planned to read them outside.

Earlier in the week, gray and rainy weather found the children's section at the Clayton County Headquarters Library packed with patrons.

A baby and his mother played with building blocks, while an elementary school-aged boy lay on a rocking lounge and read to himself. At a short-legged table, three youngsters with copies of the same book were painstakingly sounding the words aloud?using their library voices, of course.

"They like getting prizes," Kandis Banks said, with a fond smile.

Banks, 13, of Morrow, is a library volunteer. She and Amaka Agulue, 13, of Jonesboro, were on duty at the vacation reading program table, ready to verify reading logs and hand out rewards.

"I really like reading, so I want to encourage others," Agulue said.

Each girl puts in two days a week at her chosen summer task. Children's Librarian Bea Mengel said the teen volunteer program is a boon to the library and popular with the kids.

"Right now we have over 30 teen volunteers helping over the summer," she said. "They logged in 200 hours for June."

Debbie Zerkle, the children's library assistant in McDonough, said most volunteers at Henry County libraries are adults, although there are a handful of teens.

"They come in to fill out applications, but we don't have a lot come back after that," she said with a sigh. "It's a hard age group to try to get."

That's why both library systems offer weekly programs aimed at babies from birth to age 3 and the people who love them.

"It's an interactive storytime. They play with other children, we do songs and finger-play, then they read with their parent or babysitter and I read them all a story," Zerkle said. "It's amazing. Moms say the little ones wake up and say they've got to go to the library to see Miss Debbie."

Special programs for older children include storytelling, and beyond.

The Morrow library runs videos on Wednesdays at 2 p.m., a treat most other branches offer at different times. Bring your own pillow and snack.

The Clayton Headquarters library is hosting a live animal program on July 11, along with the signature vehicle of the Georgia Trucking Association.

July 12 is open-mike day at the McDonough library, for young comedians with a stock of ocean-themed humor. The banana split party comes later, on July 31.

Both library systems also offer "Pajama Storytimes", evening family gatherings where the participants come in their pajamas to sing songs, make crafts and hear stories.

"That program has really taken off here," Zerkle said. "This last Thursday night I ended up with close to 70 kids, which totally took me by surprise."

Some of the many programs require advance registration, but it's easy to keep track of upcoming activities. All branches keep plentiful supplies of monthly activity calendars listing all the special events.

For more information, call the Clayton County Headquarters Library at (770) 473-3850 or the Henry County Headquarters Library in McDonough at (770) 954-2806.