“Read With Rex” Challenge Launched, Aims to Increase Readership at New Michelle Obama Library


Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson reads Dr. Seuss to children at Colin Powell Academy For Success on Read Across America Day March 2016. Photos by Jason Ruiz. 

In conjunction with Read Across America Day and an effort to drum up support for the soon-to-be-opened Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library, Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson visited Colin Powell Academy For Success yesterday to read to students and issue a challenge for them to read more.

The “Read With Rex” challenge asks for students to read an additional 10,000 books during the first 100 days that the Obama Library is open. The current North Branch monthly readership hovers around 5,000 books checked out, and Richardson wants to push that total to 25,000 over the first 100 days of the library being open.

“When we open this library we want to make sure that people actually use it and people know where it is and we embrace it,” Richardson said to the group of about 200 students gathered at one of the academy’s assembly sights. “What that means [is], we want to read a lot of books in this new library.”

Richardson told the students of his love for reading as a child, with interests ranging from Captain America and The Flash to other titles like The Lord of the Flies and The Hobbit. He read a Dr. Seuss work titled I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, where he read about anchors and ants and ankles, and even crocodile pants. He stressed to the students that becoming a great reader now will only help them to be better at whatever they do when they become adults.

RexCrowdPowellThe first national Read Across America Day was celebrated in March of 1998 after organizers at the National Education Association decided the country needed a day to get kids excited about reading. The group decided to host it on March 2, Dr. Seuss’s birthday.

Richardson was joined at the ceremony by Long Beach Unified School District Board Members Felton Williams and Megan Kerr, Long Beach Public Library Director Glenda Williams and even celebrity Judge Tanya Acker from the CBS television show HOT BENCH. Acker’s moment at the mic encapsulated the message conveyed to the students at Powell: reading a crucial building block to success and the key to your future.

“The whole world, the world that you don’t know yet, is in a book,” Acker said. “Open up a book, it will change your life.”

The students were asked to sign pledge cards that announced whether they would read three, five or seven books during the first 100 days of the library. While the pledges varied by grade level—chapter books take longer to complete than books intended for younger audiences—the students were eager to meet their pledges.

Diana Andres, a fourth grader and self-described “bookworm,” is currently reading The Witch and the Wizard. She aspires to be a judge or a lawyer, a profession that jives with her love of mystery and figuring out the endgame of the books she checks out from library.

“It’s the [tension] that it gives you because you have no idea what you’re reading about and then all of a sudden you get more interested until finally you get to the end and it tells you the part you were most interested to know,” Andres said.

Ten-year-old Daishawn Anderson said he likes reading because it opens up his mind and his imagination. He’s pledged to read three additional books once the library opens, something that is being met with universal anticipation at Powell Academy.

“On a scale of one to 10, I’m excited [at] 20,” Anderson said of the library opening. “I like that there’s going to be a 3D printer, there’s going to be free wifi and computers.”

thingsRexThe current North Branch ranks in the lower half of the the city’s 12 library system in terms of monthly readership according to Williams. She said on average, the citywide readership is about 1.3 million books checked out annually, and that the 5,000 mark cited by Richardson was pretty accurate.

However, she believes that once the Obama Library opens, given its status as the biggest neighborhood branch in the city, at 25,000 square feet, it will climb the list pretty quickly.

“I really believe when this new library opens, it’s going to go right on up to the top, probably rivaling the Main Library, which has the biggest readership,” Williams said. “This is their library; I want them to own it; I want them to use it. It’s there for them.”

Aside from the opening day catalogue of about 24,000 new books for the community, the library will serve as an access point for state-of-the-art technologies like the 3D printer that Anderson was so excited to use, as well as new computers, free wifi and tutoring services, something that grew a large applause from the students.

Kerr said this was an important facet of the library and of the “Read With Rex” challenge; getting people associated with the library and aware of all the services it offers other than the traditional reading selection. The library will give them access to literature that might otherwise be unavailable due to economic or other factors, but the Obama Library that Kerr called a “palace” of library, will also connect students to technology needed for homework and in some cases, give them a safe place to do it.

“This neighborhood library really does sits in the middle of homes,” Kerr said. “It’s not industrial, it’s not a huge business corridor, this is really in the heart of where our families are so it has the potential to be one of the more significant equalizers for kids in terms of access to technology and access to resources.”

Community members can sign up for the “Read With Rex” challenge by visiting Richardson’s district website. Pledges are being accepted between now and June 1. 

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.