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NORMAL — Randi Sutter thinks it won't be long before Normal Public Library has its first winner in an ambitious new program.

"I bet somebody's going to get it before end of summer," said Sutter, NPL's children's outreach librarian. "We have some very dedicated readers."

That program is 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, an effort running into the foreseeable future that encourages young kids and their parents to read together and build language skills.

Participants can read any book, including repeat readings, and fill out a log to get prizes from the "treasure box" every 100 books, plus a branded tote bag and a spot of honor on the window of NPL's children's department.

"It may not take long when you think about all the books you read and hear," said Sutter. "Studies show reading in early childhood is a significant indicator of early school success. ... Repetition is wonderful for babies, for language acquisition."

The program starts June 28 with concerts from Jim Gill, at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. in the library's community room, whose "music play" concerts encourage kids to move and learn while also having fun. Gill said they also promote the kind of togetherness for families that will be necessary to make it through 1,000 books in short order.

"Lots of research says that if children have caring adults that talk with them, sing with them, play with them, read with them and playfully write with them, those children end up with the tools to be successful readers," said Gill. "My concert will be filled with opportunities for exactly that kind of engagement."

Gill noted he is also "the author of two books for young children that are available for folks to borrow at the library, and we will all be reading and singing one of my books at each concert." Sutter said families are encouraged to count that as their first book toward 1,000.

Those interested in the concerts are asked to register on the Normal Public Library website at normalpl.org/jim-gill-1. The first concert has sold out, but tickets may remain available for the second.

Sutter noted the program is low-cost for both families, who may use it as summer entertainment with a free library card, and for the library, which already has lots of children's books in its collection and prizes on hand.

"We'll have this program in perpetuity. I think it's going to be a rolling enrollment," said Sutter. "We want folks to be comfortable at the library and also read to their children so they can be lifelong learners."

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Contact Derek Beigh at (309) 820-3234. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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