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Summer Reading Since 1937

By MPL Staff on Jun 7, 2021 9:00 AM

Milwaukee Public Library’s annual Summer Reading Program began on Tuesday, June 1 this year, marking more than 80 years of summer reading at the library. Once again, the program will be held online due to the pandemic. But that’s not the only change the program has seen.

Initiated in 1937 as the Ancient Order of Book Worms (A.O.B.W.) with “spokesperson” Billy the Bookworm, the program initially featured a different theme each year. Many of the themes were just for fun, such as “Reading Round Up” (1951), and a takeoff on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. series – “S.H.U.S.H.” (1967), while others provided a history lesson in microcosm. In 1943 the slogan was “We will never ration reading.” “A.O.B.W. Candidates: 1960” reflected a hot presidential race. “Blast off to worlds unknown with Astronaut Billy and books” (1962) made Lt. Comdr. M. Scott Carpenter an honorary bookworm, and “Project: A.O.B.W. Space Flight ‘69” celebrated Apollo 11’s flight to the moon. Other themes celebrated local sports, like “Score with Books” (1978) featuring the Milwaukee Bucks and “Slide into Summer” (1988) with the Milwaukee Brewers. (A photo of the library's Billy the Bookworm puppet is shown above.)

In 2009 the library introduced its new Super Reader theme. Instead of an annual, changing theme, MPL decided to brand its summer reading program with cartoon Super Readers so there would be more continuity for the program and the library could celebrate Milwaukee’s own super readers each year.

The Super Reader theme was an instant hit and included photo opportunities with red Super Reader capes, a cut-out of Central Library, lawn signs, super masks, and local celebrities posing as Super Readers.

In 2018 the theme was freshened up a bit and introduced the Super Reader Squad which included new friends Alpha, Dewey, Blink, Fan, and Turner.

In the past, a Summer Reading folder has allowed children to track their reading. Last year the program shifted completely online, and library staff scrambled to set up a “virtual” summer reading program with only a month’s notice. Milwaukee children quickly adapted and participated by recording books online and watching library programs on their computers.

Summer Reading has grown to include independent Teen and Adult programs. There have been various formats for babies and preschoolers. The one constant for more than 80 years remains the vital importance of encouraging children to read throughout the summer so the skills they develop during the school year don’t diminish. The importance of developing daily reading habits in readers of all ages remains one of the library’s most important and enduring messages.

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