WATSONVILLE -- For Leticia Valdivia and flocks of other parents, summer has long presented a struggle to keep kids engaged in reading and learning, above television and games.
Valdivia said curiosity drew her into the Watsonville Public Library. She happened to arrive in the middle of drop-in craft time for preschool kids, a weekly event that's part of the library's Summer Reading Program. She signed up both her kids for the program and they sat down at a table with craft supplies and books.
"I need a place to keep him motivated," Valdivia said of her 6-year-old son. "And, for me, the library's the best place for that."
The decades-old tradition of summer reading programs at public libraries continues to grow and thrive in Watsonville, in step with the young community it serves.
The library offers free, bilingual programs for kids and teens, and participation is booming for both.
The library has grown, too.
Located in the Watsonville Civic Plaza, the public library occupies two floors of spacious rooms with high ceilings, large windows, cheery light and comfortable chairs. Even the 110,000 volumes have room to spread out. The space was designed to accommodate at least 40,000 more, said the library's director, Carol Heitzig, and most shelves in the children's section have empty space for the collection to expand.
"They said, 'It's too big! Why'd you build it so big?'" said Hannah Clement, the librarian for the young adults section, recalling the reactions of first-time patrons of the new location, where the library has been since 2008.
"I asked them, 'Well, what do you think Watsonville's going to be like in 20 years?'" Clement said. "We didn't build a library for this year, we built a library for 20 or 25 years from now."
Demographically, the city is unusually young, with 31.6 percent of the population younger than 18, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, compared with just less than 25 percent for the rest of California and 24 percent nationwide.
Those numbers mean not only that Watsonville can expect to keep growing in coming years, but also that a lot of kids are looking for something to do.
"If they don't have anything better to do, that's when they start to get in trouble," Clement said of her specialty age group.
In the past few years, participation in the teen program has increased about 50 percent.
About 90 teens have signed up for this summer's program. A variety of events and prizes, including a Kindle Fire, paid for by the nonprofit Friends of The Watsonville Public Library, help keep them motivated and engaged. But the teen group can still be a tough audience.
"When teens sign up, being teens, I know I might never see them again," Clement said. "I give them a free book, so I know I've put a book in their hands."
The children's program, with activities designed for kids from 6 months old to 11 years old, tends to be an easier sell.
Susan Nilsson, the children's librarian, said about 300 kids in that age range already are signed up, and she expects 400 to 500 registrants before the program ends July 26.
"No matter what they read, it helps keep up their skills," Nilsson said. "I recommend comic books. They have great vocabulary."
The activities offered are frequent and varied, so turnout depends on the event and the day.
Upcoming events include a reading and activities with Deborahlise Mota and Ruth Mota, authors of the book "Don't Bug the Bugs" on Wednesday, and performances by the Banana Slug String Band on July 17, and Boswick the Clown on July 23.
Many other events recur weekly, including bilingual story times and reading buddies sessions with volunteers from Youth Now.
Nilsson said about 40 kids usually come to the drop-in, preschool craft time, from 10:30 to noon Thursdays.
"My favorite thing to do is arts and crafts," Alexcia Thomas-Martinez, 6, said as she happily drew a crayon self-portrait on the back of her paper cupcake craft.
Alexcia and her younger brother, Izaya, 5, frequent the library with their grandmother.
Newcomers are always welcome in the Summer Reading Program. There are no required meeting times and readers can sign up at any time during the summer.
All events are free. All are at the Main branch of the Watsonville Public Library, 275 Main St., Watsonville, or the Freedom branch of the Watsonville Public Library, 2021 Freedom Blvd., Freedom. Events that require pre-registration and are already full are not listed.
Wednesday: An author event for all ages, 'Don't Bug The Bugs.'6:30-7:30 p.m., Main branch July 3: Pajama Storytime: Stuffed Animal Sleepover! A bilingual, all-ages event. Bring a stuffed animal. 6:30-7:30 p.m., Freedom branch July 9: Storyteller Olga Loya. A bilingual, all-ages event. 6:30-7:30, Main branch July 16: Water is SO Delicious. Meet the Water Drop, play fun water games and take home a free, reusable water bottle. Ages 5 and older. 11 a.m. to noon, at the Main branch. 1-2 p.m., at the Freedom branch July 17: Banana Slug String Band. An all-ages event. 6:30-7:30 p.m., Main branch July 19: Fruit and Vegetable Hat Making. An all-ages event. Noon to 2 p.m., Main branch July 23: Boswick the Clown. An all-ages event. 6:30-7:30 p.m., Main branch July 24: Play With Your Food. Making art with fruits and vegetables. An all-ages event. 6:30-7:30 p.m., Freedom branch
Drop-in Preschool Craft Time: Drop in, socialize and make a simple craft. Ages 2-5. 10:30 to noon, Thursdays through July. Main branch Reading Together Time: An event for kindergarten through fifth grades. 2-4 p.m., Wednesdays through July. Main branch Reading Buddies: Volunteers from Youth Now will be at the library to read to children in July. Ages 5 to 8. 1:45-2:45 p.m., Mondays in July only, at the Main branch. 1:45-2:45 p.m., Wednesdays in July only, at the Freedom branch. Bilingual Laptime: Stories, songs and activities. An event for ages 6 months to 24 months. 10:30 a.m., Wednesdays through July. Freedom branch Bilingual Toddler Time: Stories, songs and activities. An event for ages 2 to 4 years. 11:30 a.m., Wednesdays through July. Freedom branch
If you go
Summer Reading Program events for teens
All events are free. All are located at the Main branch of the Watsonville Public Library, 275 Main St., Watsonville, or the Freedom branch of the Watsonville Public Library, 2021 Freedom Blvd., Freedom. Events that require pre-registration and are already full are not listed.
Natural Beauty: Use grocery items to make your own body products. 2-4 p.m., Thursday at the Freedom branch. 2-4 p.m., July 11 at the Main branch, second floor. Smoothie Party: Learn to make healthy, delicious smoothies. 2-4 p.m., July 18 at the Freedom branch. 2-4 p.m., July 25 at the Main branch, second floor.
Movie Nights: 6-8 p.m., Wednesdays. Main branch, second floor. 'Ristorante Paradiso,' anime, Wednesday, 'Soylent Green,' 1970s horror film, rated PG, July 10 and 'Charlie and The Chocolate Factory,' comedy, rated PG, July 24