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Books come alive

JACKSONVILLE — Madissen Brown gingerly pulled down the giant dragon's tongue, tossed in her green snow cone straw and jumped back. "Thanks for the straw!" the beast belched.

Getting a whiff of dragon breath was just one of the highlights of the 45th annual Children's Festival for 5-year-old Madissen and the 1,800 other children who attended Sunday.

The festival, organized by the Storytelling Guild, runs from 9 a.m. to noon and 6 to 8:30 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday at Jacksonville's Britt Gardens.

Kids can dunk their hands in green slime, read a story with Mother Goose and nail together their own wooden keepsakes.

The event, themed "Read Around the World," features more than two dozen craft booths, each displaying a book children might like to read to learn more. Kids will also perform on the Britt stage throughout the festival, showing off their theater, karate and dance skills.

The three-day festival, run by more than 1,000 volunteers, is expected to draw as many as 9,500 people, she said.

The festival is designed to encourage kids to read during the summer so they don't forget what they learned during the school year, said Teresa Stumpenhaus, festival co-director. "If children aren't reading during the long summer break, they start losing their reading skills," she said. "Especially for children who are just starting to read, it's so important to keep practicing those skills."

The guild, which reads to preschoolers in the Medford Public Library, is trying to boost reading scores countywide by encouraging kids to see reading as a fun summer activity.

"Children are tested in the spring and fall for reading skills and statistics show a marked difference," Stumpenhaus said. "Scores in the fall are low and in the spring they rise dramatically."

Twelve-year-old Richard Stockton, who was fingering a bucket of green slime Sunday, said he's learned about the difference between solids and liquids through reading.

"This slime has viscoelasticity, because it's both a solid and a liquid," he explained to a group of young girls at the science booth. "Try punching it — it's a solid. Then slowly put your fingers in and it becomes a liquid."

The girls squealed as Richard demonstrated.

Now that he's nearly a teenager, he said he understands the benefit of having a summer event designed around books.

"The festival is a way for kids to learn a good chunk and get into reading," said Richard, who lives in Central Point.

Ilma McKern, also known as Mother Goose, has been encouraging children to read at the festival since it began in 1966.

The 81-year-old Medford resident said she believes reading aloud is especially important.

"Most of the experts say families should continue to read aloud, even as the children get older," McKern said. "I know in my family, my mother read aloud to us, and even when things weren't going so well, reading together would make it better."

Since Madissen, who lives in Medford, hasn't quite mastered reading yet, she said her mother, Devona Brown, reads aloud to her.

"My favorite book is 'Love You When You Whine,'" Madissen said.

Which is proof, Brown said, that reading aloud can also be fun for adults.

"I think that book is more for my entertainment than anything," she said.

Admission to the festival costs $2. A schedule of events can be seen online at www.storytellingguild.org/childrens-festival.html.

Reach reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-776-4459 or email hguzik@mailtribune.com.

8-year-old Dylan Holcomb (center) feeds the dragon trash with his sisters Claire, 5, and Ashleigh,11 at the Childrens festival at Britt Gardens Sunday evening. Andy Atkinson Photo