If you've been to the Park Rapids Area Library lately, you may have noticed a couple of stuffed sloth friends relaxing in the children's area.

It's time we introduce you to our friends and share some exciting news. Our big sloth, Booker (named with the help of our Facebook friends), and his reading buddy, Barb (named in honor of Barbara Ranson, whose family has contributed most generously to our endeavor), are the mascots for our very own "1,000 Books Before Kindergarten" program.

Libraries across the nation offer this program in an effort to promote reading to newborns, infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Studies show that children who are read to early and often gain social, emotional and cognitive skills, and are better prepared when it's time to start school.

We are challenging area parents and caregivers to read 1,000 books with their children before kindergarten.

That's a big number. It might sound less daunting when we break it down. If you read one book, every other day, for five years, you will have read 1,000 books. If you read two books every day, it will take less than two years to read 1,000 books.

You don't have to rush. Take your time and enjoy the journey! Life gets busy sometimes, and it's always good to slow down and read.

Any child that has not yet started kindergarten can participate in this program until entering kindergarten. After each 100 books, you'll come to the library, show us your book chart and receive a brand new book to keep! If you complete 1,000 books before your child starts kindergarten, your child will have received 10 brand new books for your home library.

You can register at the library beginning Monday, May 6. Upon enrollment, your child will receive a cotton book bag with our custom logo, and a reading log packed with helpful information and fun ideas.

As you get started, remember that reading together should never be a chore. In fact, it can be a wonderful bonding experience. If you follow the suggestions in the log book, it will become an activity you both enjoy. You can read any type of book, and you can read it anywhere! You can count the same book more than once. You can even count stories you hear together at library story time, held Fridays at 10:30 a.m.

Our 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program was made possible through a gift to the library from the Marjorie and Gordon Bloom Family Charitable Trust, along with the Ranson family in memory of Barbara Ranson. We offer our sincere thanks, and hope our program will honor Barb and help instill her passion for learning in others. We also thank the Friends of the Park Rapids Area Library for their contribution to and continued support of the ongoing program.

We can't wait to share this reading adventure with the parents and children of Park Rapids and the surrounding communities. Are you ready? Let's read!