“This is a celebration of reading and of books.”

That is how Debra Bridenbaugh, the librarian at Harry McKillop Elementary in Melissa, describes the reading festival organized last Thursday.

Parents were asked to bring students to the school from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. so they could check out a book and enjoy the activities.

“We want to promote reading,” Bridenbaugh said. “We know that we are growing readers, and that is so important. In order for our kids to be successful and to move on they have to be readers.”

Teachers encouraged children to get involved with reading by dressing up as their favorite storybook characters. Each grade level from pre-kindergarten to third grade had a book theme and a reading session with a teacher. One parent took over the library, bringing to life “The Shiny Gold Button” book and urging children in the audience to come onstage and join the fun.

Geppetto’s Marionette Theater was set up in the cafeteria doing a puppet performance of “Hansel and Gretel.”

One highlight of the night was when a helicopter landed on the school’s front lawn, to the delight of all the children.

“When the helicopter came down, I thought that was really cool, and how it like circled the school,” fifth grader Megan Tubbs said.

Megan and her brother, second grader Andrew Tubbs, thought that was the best part of the night.

“That was so cool,” Andrew said. “I had no idea why the helicopter had to go around in a circle.”

When asked about the reading portion, both were slightly less enthusiastic.

“I thought the Hansel and Gretel play was cool too,” Megan said.

When asked about the possibility of checking out a book, Andrew perked up.

“Yeah sure, why not,” he said. Turning to his mother he said, “Can we go check out a book?”

Principal of the elementary school Walter Perez said that’s the whole point of this festival — to get children to check out a book and read it.

It’s why the school spent $20,000 this year to purchase 2,000 new books, he said.

Fifteen thousand dollars of that money came from the Parent-Teacher Organization, Perez said, and its annual carnival fundraiser.

“This is a way of life that we’re trying to instill in them,” he said. “That reading is something important, something that has to go on for the rest of their lives. For them to have a good future we need to make sure they’re good reader.”

The idea for the festival came from Melissa Independent School District’s reading initiative, Perez said. Staff from the district came together to think of ways to encourage reading in all grade levels.

For elementary school students, the idea is to get students interested in reading at a young age. Perez said by doing this, students can lay a foundation that makes reading a habit.

“We’re here to create and foster a love for reading,” he said.

Along with the reading events, there was also food trucks and hot dogs handed out by the Melissa Fire Department.

The plan, Perez said, is to make this an annual event. Next year, at least one children’s author has agreed to come and read a book at the festival.