It may be mid-summer, but a large group of kids, parents and teachers have been getting together weekly at a Howell elementary school to share their love of reading.

Several dozen kids sat around Howell Superintendent Erin MacGregor Wednesday night as he read aloud to them, one of a half dozen community members serving as guest readers for the Challenger Elementary School Summer Reading Program, which aims to maintain kids’ reading skills over the summer with nine weekly get-togethers featuring food, fun and a free book. It’s paid for through a combination of federal Title I funds a $2,000 donation from the Livingston Sunrise Rotary. Melissa Richard is the Title I teacher at Challenger. "We just want to get books in kid's hands. We all know about the summer reading slide, when kids are not in school for those summer months, their reading levels can drop. By getting books in hands, it's helping with their reading levels. And if we can get six books in their hands over the summer, they would maintain their reading level and if we can get even more than that they can increase their reading level after that."

Richard said each week has a different theme including curiosity, kindness, friendship, belonging and hope which are tied in with the curriculum for the coming school year. Richard said the reaction to the program has very much exceeded her expectations. "It's been amazing. Just to be able to have those conversations with their teachers outside of school too, they think that's the coolest thing ever...and us to be able to recommend books to kids over the summer and know that we are still thinking of them even when they're not here with us is cool too."

For the hundred or so kids who turned out to Challenger Wednesday, the event was less about academic achievement, but more just a chance to have fun, get a free book and hear some interesting stories, the importance of which can’t be overstated in this screen-dominated world. (JK)