The Macks Center for Jewish Education’s Library Summer Reading Program Goes Virtual

By Jessica Fink, CJE Librarian 

For the past four summers, I have been in charge of running the summer reading program offered by the Macks Center for Jewish Education (CJE), an agency of The Associated. Right after Pesach I typically reach out to a few different family entertainment venues and find a generous owner who is willing to donate time in their facility to the children who complete our summer reading program.  

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”
– Maya Angelou

We start with a “Kick-off Party” at the location for all the participants to get the program started. It’s a huge event that is very well regarded. I typically bring around 100 children’s books that the kids can check out “off-site” while at the party! I usually – and happily – leave empty-handed. 

In addition to setting up the prizes, I order books. Oh boy, do I order books! I call or email all the local Jewish day school librarians and acquire their summer reading lists. I then order as many of the books on those lists that I possibly can. That way, the children can complete their school’s summer reading list while also using it to count for our summer reading program. 

And with schools being on summer break, many children are able to come in during school hours without being in a rush! The children actually have hours to look through the bookshelves, ask questions, and enjoy the library experience.  

There is nothing that brightens my day or the days of other staff members than seeing young minds engaged with our vast collection. During the school year, the library continues to enjoy a steady flow of visitors as well. But in addition to browsing the bookshelves, patrons also take part in our various programs, such as “Karma Dogs,” a local favorite where the kids enjoy reading books to sweet, appreciative service dogs. 

Our Summer Reading Program boasts a similar level of engagement. Here are just a few of the incredible numbers from our 2019 session: 

  • 177 families participated 
  • 629 children finished the summer reading program 
  • 545 children received the Climb Zone White Marsh prize 
  • 5,875 books were checked out during out 11-week summer reading program 

But what to do now? How can a summer reading program that thrives on the interaction of physical books and a non-socially distant prize go on in the summer of 2020 — the summer of Covid-19? The summer where many, if not most parents won’t feel comfortable sharing the same library books with one another? 


Going Virtual 

Just like school became virtual, so too will our Summer Reading Program of 2020. We will bring it to the homes of the children participating. Just like our children’s schools became virtual, the CJE Library will follow along. 

The CJE Library would like to introduce our newest group of literature, our “Ebook Collection!” This collection was solely curated based off our Summer Reading Program. The books that were included fall into at least one of these five categories: 

  • Newest critically acclaimed Jewish children’s books (ex. Sydney Taylor Awards) 
  • Books from the local Jewish day schools’ summer reading lists 
  • Biographies on Jews who should be better-known 
  • Biographies on well-known Jews 
  • Jewish historical fiction 

Children from preschool through high school are asked to pick books that are age- and content-appropriate. They are asked to read five picture books or three chapter books.  

Many of the picture books in our Ebook Collection were chosen specifically because they have a higher content level that focuses on a nonfiction topic in a user-friendly way. They are meant to be read in one or two days so that the children can read through them quickly, but still learn valuable lessons from our Jewish history.  

You can visit our website to read the official directions for the summer reading program, as well as print a bookmark and register for the program.

This year’s program is running from July 1-August 31, and prizes can be claimed until Labor Day. The CJE is grateful that this year’s sweet prizes were generously donated by a few few local bakeries and cafes such as Pariser’s Bakery and Chef Dan’s Café! 

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