School-age South Portland children can participate in Parks & Recreation’s reading challenges each month. Courtesy photo

SOUTH PORTLAND — Beginning in 2021 is a new set of monthly reading challenges for South Portland students, who have the chance to win prizes each month from the Parks and Recreation Department.

Luis Ventura, a site leader for after school adventures with South Portland Parks, Recreation and Waterfront, said that South Portland Reading Challenge idea came from his own passion for reading and desire to find children a fun activity they can do from home.

Each month, Ventura will pick a new book theme, author or type of book, he said. He will post the guidelines on the South Portland Parks and Recreation Facebook page, @sopoparksrec.

After selecting one of the books to read, the child then must take a selfie with the book, and parents can share the photo to South Portland’s Parks and Rec Facebook page or on Instagram with the hashtag #SoPoreadingchallenge, Ventura said.

Students in third grade and up will need to write a half page summary of the book they’ve chosen and include a drawing of their favorite moment, Ventura said. Second graders and lower can submit a drawing of their favorite moment and write one thing they loved most about the book.

Once finished, students can submit work to the front desk at the Community Center or email [email protected] The deadline is the last day of the month.

“When we have all the submissions at the end of each month, we’ll pick a superstar reader and we’ll give him or her a reward,” he said. “We’ll announce the winner on the first Friday of the following month.”

For the month of January, students can read a book about or featuring dragons, “The misadventures of Edgar Allan Poe,” any volume, or a book about winter, Ventura said.

“I know Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday was in January,” he said. “I want to give kids an opportunity to be introduced to Edgar Allan Poe but in a way that’s for kids. There’s a book that introduces kids to that type of reading because the original’s not necessarily for kids.”

The books picked will continue to relate to the month which they’re assigned, Ventura said. Currently, students and parents need to find the book themselves, but Ventura hopes to find a local bookstore, library or author who may want to either donate books or partner with the project.

“In the moment that I choose to give kids a book from a library or book store or author, the kids can access them through those, so it’s like a win-win,” he said. “I want to try to find local book authors, like especially for children’s books or young adult, and highlight their works in the challenge so kids can reach out to those local people and find their work.”

Ventura enjoyed putting together the reading challenge idea because it’s something fun that children can do during the pandemic, he said. Many kids might be stuck at home, passing the time with video games, but books are important, too.

“I love reading and writing,” he said. “That’s one of my biggest passions. I think kids need to be more in touch with that while growing up. It really explores creativity and develops the imagination in kids’ brains.”

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