The Forest Park Public Library hosted a celebration last Tuesday to kick off its summer reading program, which library officials hope will encourage students to continue reading while school is out for the summer.

“The point is to get kids to maintain the skills they’ve learned. If they don’t read throughout the summer, they might lose these skills,” said Youth Services Manager Lindsey Kraft.

To ensure that the students remain motivated to read, the library will offer weekly prize drawings from a “treasure chest” of prizes and other rewards, including McDonald’s gift certificates for every three books students read.

Though the prizes are geared toward ages 4-12, Kraft said all are welcome to participate in the program. Participants can read any books they’d like as long as the books are at or above their reading level.

Kraft encourages students to explore subject matter they might not encounter in school.

“School is more structured. The library is a good place to explore interests they might not explore normally,” she said.

Though the kick-off party drew about 65 kids, many of whom were enticed by the pizza donated by Jimmy’s Place, 7411 Madison St. Kraft is hoping the program will attract 300 kids throughout the summer. So far, she said, 110 have signed up.

Kraft, who started her job at the library in late May, acknowledged the summer reading program was a last-minute project. She has several equally ambitious programs in her sights once she gets settled into the new job, including a reading program modeled after the popular CSI television series.

The department also features weekly programs, including Beach Blanket Bingo on Tuesdays at 4 p.m. and movies and popcorn on Fridays at 2 p.m., as well as special events, including upcoming Origami crafts workshops on July 20 and 27.

A native of Detroit, Kraft worked at a library in Saline, Mich., while attending school before moving to Chicago.

“I wanted to explore a new environment and a bigger city,” she said.

She had several friends in the western suburbs, and during previous visits found herself attracted to “the feel” of downtown Forest Park.

“Forest Park is a great community,” she said. “Actually, when I decided to move to Chicago, it was one of the communities where I was most interested in working.”

Kraft acknowledged she had heard horror stories about past security problems on the library’s lower level, but has not personally observed any such problems during her time working there.

“I try to treat the kids with respect because if you respect them, they respect you back, but I won’t take attitude or abuse,” she said. “I just want to give them something constructive to do with the free time they spend at the library. I know not everyone wants to come read a book every day, and that’s not what I expect.”

Though she is aware of the high turnaround rate in the library’s youth service department in the past, she said she does not understand why others were so quick to leave.

Her immediate predecessor, Kathy Mielecki, started in September but departed for a job with the Chicago Public Libraries in April.

“I’m really not sure why,” said Kraft. “This job is exactly what I’ve been looking for.”