Summer zoo program excites young ones at library

ELKTON — The Elkton Central Library was home to scales, tails, shells and claws Tuesday morning as the Brandywine Zoo hosted a program on nocturnal animals.

Staff from the zoo, based in Wilmington, Del., read Gianna Marino’s “Night Animals” with a few dozen kids before introducing them to some of the animals that are active primarily at nighttime, including a chinchilla, a nine-banded armadillo, a prehensile-tailed skink and a Mandarin rat snake, drawing many laughs, squeals and big eyes.

Hannah Pretz, educational coordinator for the Brandywine Zoo, who led Tuesday’s program, said that while the zoo primarily participates in Delaware events and programs, it does have the ability to branch out to opportunities in Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Maryland. The team, which included summer intern Kevin Day on Tuesday, makes appearances at all kinds of events from schools to sporting events, community fairs to libraries.

While the zoo has participated in programs in Cecil County before, this was the first time that the zoo’s program came to the Cecil County Public Library system, hosting programs at five of the system’s seven branches over the past two weeks, Pretz said.

“It’s awesome because we’ve been able to meet a pretty large and diverse group,” she said, noting many of the zoo’s outreach efforts are dependent on grant funding and this month’s appearances were funded by the Friends of the CCPL. “It’s been really neat to see the inner-workings of the Library system over the last week.”

Katelyn McLimans, CCPL’s youth services manager, said programs like Tuesday’s visit from the zoo are great ways to reward active library users with interesting programs while also possibly enticing new users to enter the library for the first time.

“It’s good to bring in our frequent users to help keep educating them over the summer, but also engaging new families and maybe getting them signed up for summer reading or other programs,” she said.

Lauren and Charlie Houstons, of Elkton, brought their son, Luke, to participate in the program Tuesday, something the family does often.

“We’ve only lived here two years, but we use all of the library’s branches,” Lauren Houston said, noting she frequently checks its calendar to see what programs are coming up. “Luke gets a lot out of it.”

The Houstons also enjoy the programs by joining friends Jennifer and Steve Basl, of Elkton, who brought their daughters, Madison and Brooklyn, on Tuesday.

“We come all the time. Madison, who just turned 4, has a summer goal to learn how to read,” Jennifer Basl said. “We like that they have programs for all age levels as well.”

Alison Reeves, of Elkton, brought her two daughters, Emily, 5, and Katherine, 3, to the program Tuesday morning.

“We come to all of the classes because they love it,” Reeves said. “We actually came here today because we thought we were signed up for an art class, so they snuck us into this.”

While Emily and Katherine both said they didn’t enjoy S.J., the Mandarin rat snake, Emily said she liked Don, the chinchilla, because he was “fluffy.”

Because she is a stay-at-home mom, Reeves said she enjoys partaking in the Library system’s programming throughout the year.

“It’s a nice outlet,” she said. “I’ve been bringing them since Emily was probably 9 months old and now I have a 1-month-old that I’ll be bringing soon.”

For Pretz, who has also spent time as a zookeeper, it’s that kind of excitement that draws her back to the zoo’s education program.

“I absolutely love teaching kids and I love to see the light bulb go off in their head,” she said. “I like to hear them run up to mom or dad to tell them about what they saw. And I like teaching the parents, many of whom don’t like our snake or tarantula. Hopefully we can break some stereotypes and show an animal’s importance, while getting the whole family involved.”

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