WATSON — The staff that oversees the Livingston Parish Library System has issued a challenge to area youth this summer: “Get In The Game: Read.”

To that end, the library has hosted numerous special events, such as the “Angry Birds” play day at the Watson Branch recently, encouraging school-age youth to visit the library and pick up a book or two to read.

Lesley Campbell, youth services librarian at the Watson Branch, said the library staff is trying to prevent something called “the summer slide.”

Campbell said research has shown that when school children are not active in a learning experience for several months in the summer they can stumble as much as half-a-grade backwards before returning to school.

“We want to get the children engaged,” Campbell said. “We want them to read, to be involved with a learning experience, and to keep their minds active during the summer.”

The “Angry Birds” activity was based on a series of popular video games and a movie that feature, among other things, “Angry Birds” being hurled at various targets, especially pigs. To simulate the game, the library staff created a large catapult that the children could use to shoot soft “Angry Birds” at stacked boxes simulating targets. At another station, the children playing the game could throw bean bag “Angry Birds” at targets at the end of a long table.

The play session also featured “Angry Birds” tic-tac-toe, a station where the “Angry Birds’ game could be played, and tables where “Demolition Crafts” could be constructed and “Angry Bird” characters could be colored.

About 30 children, many accompanied by their parents, took part in the afternoon play session. The meeting room at the rear of the library was extremely noisy with the children excitedly screaming when they managed to topple the cardboard blocs at the catapult or the bean bag toss.

“Things are different at the library now. We don’t always keep the children quiet,” Campbell said. “We want them to laugh and have fun when we have these special days. The main thing is, they are at the library, and we want them to feel welcome here. By involving youngsters in the library experience at an early age, we hope to keep their minds sharp and their learning improved.”

Campbell, who said she has a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of New Orleans, moved to the Watson area with her family after Hurricane Katrina. She said she discovered the library and “fell in love with just being here with all the books.” Campbell then earned a master’s degree in library science from the University of Southern Mississippi and has been involved with the Livingston Parish Library System ever since.

As a youth services librarian she is part of a team that devises special activity days at the various branches in the library system. She said the five branches recently held a highly successful Cup Cake Wars session. Youngsters were instructed to choose a book, become familiar with the characters in the book, and then decorate a cupcake to resemble a character. “We had a lot of fun and plenty of feedback from the Cup Cake Wars. … It was exciting and really got the kids involved,” Campbell said.

Campbell sees such activities as a public service. She said traditional camps can be expensive and beyond the financial reach of some families. Also, participating in themed camps is just not possible for some children for a variety of reasons. The library seeks to help fill in that gap by offering the special activities free of charge. “We want the children here at the library. We want them to learn and we want this to be a social experience. The children learn to interact with each other and enjoy friendships when they are a part of our programs,” she said.

She said many of the special summer programs developed for older children and teens emphasize gaining knowledge in the areas of science, technology, electronics and mathematics, the STEM disciplines which are increasingly being offered to students.

Asked if children still enjoy reading when they have so many other recreational opportunities in today’s electronic gadget world, Campbell replied, “Absolutely.”

Young children are still very much interested in reading and the librarians encourage them to check out books, she said.

To encourage reading, the library has been running a summer rewards program for all ages. Children complete the program by reading 10 picture books or five chapter books. Books read aloud by parents count so even preschoolers and babies can participate. Teens can read three books and write reviews for them on their online account, or attend three teen summer reading events to complete the program. Adults must read three books, eBooks or audio books to complete the program and enter a grand prize drawing at the end of the summer for an Exercise your Mind gym bag filled with goodies.

The library system has published a long list of summer activities available at the branches or on the internet. Additionally, the system has issued its summer reading program edition of Newsletter, the library’s regularly published periodical. The summer list is titled, “Exercise Your Mind: Read.” Special programs at the branches will be offered through the end of July.

Campbell said her staff is looking forward to the Make Time Fair which is open to all ages. The fair will be held at 2 p.m. on July 30. The event marks the culmination of the Make Time Workshops that have been held throughout the summer for patrons aged 8-18. She said the sessions have been extremely popular with a waiting list to get into some of the sessions. The fair will be held in the youth area of the library to accommodate the anticipated crowds, Campbell said.

Tim DeSalvo, of Watson, who was attending the “Angry Birds” activity with his son, said of the Livingston Parish Library System, “I’ve got to give the libraries high marks. My children love to come here and so do I. Whenever I have the time, you can find me here at the library reading and learning new things. The youth programs are just great.”

The library system utilizes the services of its Teen Advisory Board, which is made up of high school students who volunteer at the various branches.

Emogene Stringer, a freshman at Live Oak High School, said she enjoys volunteering at the library throughout the summer.

“I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend here at the library,” she said. “It’s fun interacting with young people and I especially enjoy seeing the looks on their faces when they are having fun. My time spent in volunteering at the library is very special for me.”

Campbell encourages Livingston Parish residents to explore the long list of programs for youngsters, teens and adults that will be available through the end of the month. “We have many good programs left on our summer list so we encourage residents to take advantage of what we have to offer. Visit any of our branches and you will see that we are waiting to be of service to you. We want to make your summer better and we want you to enjoy what we have for you.”