Quills & Queues by Angela Howe-Decker: It's summer reading time at the Jackson County libraries.

It's summer reading time at the Jackson County libraries. This annual event is a free and fun way to encourage children to read when they're not in school. It is also a chance for families to spend some quiet moments together during a summer that is often filled with go-go activity.

Ashland children's librarian Margie Cicerrella says the program is memorable for both kids and adults. "Summer reading programs are a tradition in most libraries," Cicerrella says. "I talk with many parents and even grandparents who fondly remember participating in summer reading at their hometown library when they were growing up. They speak of reading great books, participating in fun programs and winning prizes."

Happily, none of that has changed over years, she says, though the Ashland library seems to outdo itself every year.

This year's themes are "Make a Splash" for kids and "Make Waves" for teens. The library is full of splashy decorations and a lot of the activities and events are centered around water. Events for kids include board games, origami and bookmaking. The teen program will offer games, papier-maché, movies and a writing workshop.

The summer reading program always has been a big hit with my kids. The theme could be "Broccoli Mush" or "Worm Eating," and they'd still be all over it. Actually, they would adore a worm-eating theme. My youngest likes the stickers, the bookmarks and the excitement of choosing those first books. My oldest likes the prizes.

Grace Schroder, age 8, signed up for this summer's program already and says she does it every year. She selected "James and the Giant Peach" for her reading list, among others. "It's just fun, and I love the prizes," she says.

The prizes are certainly nice, but even better are the long-term benefits of reading even when school is out. "Learning is enhanced and retention is increased when children continue to read during the summer break," says Cicerrella.

She shared with me a study from Johns Hopkins University that showed young people experienced learning losses when they did not engage in educational activities over the summer. A summer reading program exercises kids' minds and helps them develop and maintain a lifelong reading habit.

"What I like best is seeing young children learn to read," says Cicerrella. "Children who read or who are read to on a regular basis come to know reading as a pleasurable activity."

This year's kids' prizes include a free kids meal at Medford's Hometown Buffet, free entry to Kid Time Discovery Experience in Medford, and a free ticket to a Portland Trailblazers pre-season game. The nifty grand prizes include a free raft trip on the Rogue River for a parent and child, donated by Noah's River Adventures, and a morning discovering aquatic life at North Mountain Park in Ashland. Other lucky children will win special editions of books and sets of books. Teen prizes include a free iPod Nano and a Kodak Playsport Camcorder.

Note how many times I've used the word "free." Kids will be wildly entertained and rewarded for learning, all for free. Best of all, it gives parents, grandparents and caregivers a chance to spend some time reading with the children they love.

Cicerrella says one cannot overstate the importance of reading with a child. "Parents who model reading show, in a very credible way, the importance of reading in their own lives. In our very busy world it is important to carve out time to read, whether reading for information or just for fun," she says.

Taking part in the reading program is easy. Just go into the library and sign up. Children will receive forms to track their reading. After a child reads or listens to 10 books, he or she can turn in the form for prizes. Cicerrella emphasizes that there is no prize awarded for reading the most books.

For more information, including activity dates and times, contact the Ashland library at 541-774-6996 or visit www.JCLS.org.

Angela Howe-Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at decker4@gmail.com.