CHESTERTON | Thomas Memorial Park in downtown Chesterton was full of parrots, horses, and even a plume of water from a fire truck on Thursday as the Westchester Public Library summer reading program came to a close.
The pirate-themed program had more than 900 involved; last year was about 700. Merribeth Paunicka, children's manager at the library, said it may be due to a variety of factors.
"It may be due to the economy, but we also gave presentations at many of the area schools before summer break, and the theme of pirates was also really popular," Paunicka said.
Throughout the program, children had visits from the Shedd Aquarium staff, reptile handlers, U.S. Coast Guard officers, and pirate costumed educators. Each week, children read books to have their passports stamped to receive prizes, such as passes to local attractions.
Sydney Napier, second grader at Bailly Elementary School, said the reading program was a good time.
"I thought it was awesome because you got to do a lot of reading. I liked the reptile visit too and getting to hold a snake," Napier said.
For her mother, the program was education disguised as fun.
"It's incredibly valuable anytime you can promote reading for our kids. We really love it," said Christine Napier of Chesterton.
On Thursday, it was all about celebrating the end of all of the hard work. Children held pirate parrots (or macaws), walked the plank (or jumped into a kiddie pool with plastic sharks), went on a treasure hunt (for ice cream) and got their faces painted.
"I think it was a huge success. We're very pleased to see that everyone had a good time and hopefully we led a lot of kids to books," Paunicka said.