Two Riverhead readers complete the ‘1,000 Books Before Kindergarten’ challenge

Two young readers in Riverhead have reached an impressive reading milestone.

Olivia Grodski, 4, and Lukas Levesque, 5, have each read 1,000 books. They celebrated this achievement with their families Monday at Riverhead Free Library.

As a reward for their efforts, the Friends of the Riverhead Free Library presented Olivia and Lukas with bicycles purchased from Country Time Cycle in Mattituck.

The 1,000-book challenge began as a way to foster strong early literacy skills. The Riverhead library launched the challenge in 2009 and similar programs have been implemented in libraries across the country. The concept is simple: Read a book — any book — to your newborn, infant or toddler and keep track. The goal is to have read 1,000 books to children before they enter kindergarten.

“This is a fantastic program,” said library director Kerrie McMullen-Smith. “It is so important that kids read and have a love for reading and learning before they even get to kindergarten. It makes school so much easier for them if they have that background.”

Children’s librarian Laurie Harrison said it’s important to foster literacy through reading, talking, singing and playing. “Studies have shown that the more children are exposed to books and reading before kindergarten, the better prepared they are,” Ms. Harrison said.

Olivia Grodski, 4, completed the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten challenge and was presented with a new bicycle Monday at Riverhead Free Library. She was joined by her grandmother Bonnie Maiman (from left) and her parents, John and Rebecca Grodski. (Tara Smith photo)

In Riverhead, families can participate by signing out a bag containing 10 books from the children’s department and keeping a log as they are read. For every five books completed, children can pick a prize from a “treasure chest,” Ms. Harrison said.

“[Children] will acquire letter knowledge, background information, an awareness of the structure and sound of language and a richer vocabulary — all from just listening to stories,” according to informational materials provided by the library.

Olivia’s parents, Rebecca and John Grodski of Wading River, credit grandmother Bonnie Maiman with helping her complete the challenge. Ms. Maiman watches Olivia daily and looks forward to their frequent trips to the children’s room.

“We read to her every night. It’s a part of our routine,” Mr. Grodski said.

The system used in Riverhead — filling a bag with 10 surprise books — has exposed the entire family to new books they might not otherwise have picked. 

“Some of the books are bilingual,” Ms. Maiman said. “And Olivia picked up on it. She can count a little bit.”

Lukas’ mom, Gwendolyn Levesque of Calverton, has been coming to Riverhead Free Library with her older sons — Logan, 9, and Liam, 13 — since Liam was born.

“They know us by name. We feel really welcome here,” she said. All three boys have completed the 1,000-book challenge.

Ms. Levesque, a first-grade teacher in the Sachem school district, knows firshand how important reading is to children. “It’s evident to my peers and me when parents read to their kids at home,” she said.

“They’re picture books. It doesn’t take very long,” she added, encouraging other parents to find time to read and bond with their children.

When their bikes were unveiled, both Olivia and Lukas were excited to hop on. “Thank you,” they said in unison, excited to check out the bells and gears outfitted on their shiny new bicycles.

Olivia’s favorite book?

It changes daily, her dad said.

The new bike was an especially fitting prize for Lukas, who enjoys riding with his brothers at Shoreham BMX. 

His favorite books are about dirt bikes and the Pete the Cat series, he said.

“We’re so excited that you did all this wonderful reading,” said Friends of the Riverhead Free Library outreach coordinator Marcia Littenberg. “We hope you’re going to be lifetime readers.”

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Photo caption: Lukas Levesque, 5, was awarded a new bicycle from the Friends of Riverhead Free Library Monday night for completing the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten challenge. (Tara Smith photo)