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Students urged to read million books by Jan. 1
2,500 in Utah Valley turn out as drive begins

OREM -- Tyler Parry is an outspoken fan of the literature of his generation.

The freckled 7-year-old Provo boy is hooked on tales spun in "Goosebumps" books and the exploits of "Nate the Great.""We like to read, and I really want my kids to like to read," said his mother, Angela Parry, while shepherding her three children through crowds Tuesday at the launch of a yearlong reading program.

Some 2,500 students and parents from Alpine, Provo and Nebo school districts were attracted to the "Utah Valley Reads" party, which kicked off a daunting challenge: Students are being asked to read a million books before the new year is rocked in by Dick Clark at Times Square.

"We just thought it would be fun to kick off the millennium with 1 million books," said Marilyn Kofford, president of Alpine's board of education. "If just half of our kids read one book a week, we'll hit a million in a flash."

Parents like Parry lined up for some 4,200 free donated books, posters and compact discs to keep their broods busy during the summer hiatus from schools. Kids also enjoyed balloon hats, puppet shows and story times during the two-hour event, held annually at Utah Valley State College.

Such characters as Mother Goose and the Cat in the Hat from the popular Dr. Seuss book milled about in the crowd, encouraging children to take books and posters home.

"This was fun. I'm glad we came," said Parry, after looking at the free goods her kids collected.

Patti Harrington, Provo's assistant superintendent, is confident Utah Valley's school kids will have no problem reaching the goal before Jan. 1. "Oh, yeah," she said. "We'll get that."

At the event and during the last week of schools, students were given a recording sheet to keep track of how many books they are reading. A running tally will be kept until the winter deadline, she said.

For the summer reading program, one classroom from each school that has read the most books during the summer will earn a pizza party. A grand prize will be given to students at the school that reads the most books per student.

Alpine and Nebo also are opening some school libraries for a few hours one day a week during the summer so students can check out books. Provo's students can use the district's year-round schools, officials said.

Along with Alpine's Steven C. Baugh and Provo's Mike Jacobsen, new Nebo Superintendent Carl Nielson gave his favorite book to a student in the crowd. Nielson handed the lucky student a copy of "Sign of the Beaver," a book he's enjoyed since childhood.

"I think I've read it will all my children," he said. "And I enjoy it every time I read it."

Lynn Simons, a representative from the U.S. Department of Education, was noticeably impressed at the turnout to the "Utah Valley Reads" celebration. Her office supplied posters that encouraged students to continue to crack books.

In the six-state region she oversees, few communities respond to literacy efforts with such enthusiasm, she said. Simons said she was unaware of other similar programs in states surrounding Utah.

"This is tremendous. What can you say? It is magnificent," she said, looking into the lines of families waiting for books. "This point is important: Schools can't do it alone for all the kids. Communities also are responsible to helping to bring up kids."