SHERIDAN — Wednesday is your last chance to get a free book as the 24th annual series of Kiwanis sponsored book giveaways at Sheridan County libraries comes to an end.
Since 1991 over 9,000 books have gone home with children from all walks of life thanks to a program that started under the federal “Reading is Fundamental” initiative.
Originally the library system would give out picture and board books to children under the age of 2, but over the years the program has grown and now serves children of all ages through junior high.
Michelle Havenga has been the children’s librarian for 33 years at Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library, and she has watched children grow through the program, from the first book they ever owned to the first book they read on their own.
“It’s fun when they figure out those little squiggly lines mean something,” said Havenga. “One boy read every title before selecting his book. For some families it has become an annual tradition.”
One of the fun parts of her job, Havenga enjoys watching older siblings help the younger kids decide which book to take and talk to them about the books they had when they were younger.
All children are welcome to a book and Havenga said last year the more than 300 books distributed went to moms who bring down neighborhood children, day cares that bring over classes and travelers in town for vacation.
“One time we had people whose vehicles broke down and they were stranded, but they came out of it with a new book,” Havenga said.
The long-time Sheridan librarian is not the only one who gets to share the joy with the children, though, as all library branches in Sheridan County participate.
The Clearmont branch held their give-away last week but only three book lovers stopped by so they still have some free books waiting for late comers.
Art Elkins has been the treasurer for the Kiwanis since 2000 and now has the honor of handing the check to the library for the donations, but has been part of the organization since 1973.
Elkins said the majority of the funds raised for the initiative come from the rodeo week pancake breakfast and duck race.
Young literacy is a focus of Kiwanis International and providing the books, as well as participating in Raising Readers at Sagebrush and Highland Park elementary schools, is the local group’s way of fulfilling that goal.
They have donated over $25,000 to the library over the years and each summer over $1,000 worth of books ranging from picture books, information books, current popular titles and a general broad spectrum of appeal arrive in town to the enjoyment of Sheridan’s youth.
“It’s sometimes hard for kids to only pick one book so we try to find the other book in our library collection for them to check out,” Havenga said. “Then the hard part is explaining to them ‘this is yours to keep but this is ours to borrow, take care of it and bring it back.’”
To find your new book head to the library between 9 a.m. and noon Wednesday, while supplies last.