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PRINCEVILLE – The best part of summer for Ashley Taylor Espina isn’t long days at the beach, shave ice or the carefree hours spent doing nothing.

Nope. 

The best part, according to the Kapaa Middle School seventh grader, is the free time it allows her to read. And read. And read.

“I read almost every day when I first get up,” the 12-year-old said. 

So much so, Espina knocked out 141 books this summer during a six-week reading program sponsored by the state of Hawaii and funded by the nonprofit, Friends of the North Shore Library at Princeville, put on for Kauai North Shore book enthusiasts.

More than 3,000 books were plowed through by the young, voracious readers who registered for the program and went though as many titles as they could. But the most proficient reader of them all was Espina, who averaged more than three books per day for the top total. She related to her favorite book series, “Junie B. Jones,” which made the program all the more enjoyable.

“She’s a good character,” Espina said of the heroine. “I like her because she’s funny. And she’s happy. I am too.”

Espina’s passion for books stems from her childhood when her mom, Peggy Salvador, would read bedtime stories to her every night. Espina also remembers a time when her older brother would read to her. 

“My favorite was when he would read, ‘The Three Bears,’ to me,” Espina said. 

The straight-A student’s tastes have changed since those early years. Invention is more likely to strike a cord with her now.

“My favorite this summer was, ‘The Power of Light,’ about the first light ever invented,” Espina said, adding that the power of a book can be very influential. “I’d like to invent something.”

Espina wasn’t alone when it came to learning during the summer program. 

Jane Ryan, reading program coordinator at the library, oversaw the requirements for each participant – all 304 of them. They had to read at least one book a week and each week they received an age-appropriate gift. Ryan said she saw children transformed from being unable to write their own names at the beginning to becoming proficient readers and writers in the end. She noticed other changes in the participants as well. 

“I saw the kids getting more and more excited from the beginning to the end. I reviewed the titles they’d read and they would have to explain back to me what the story was about,” Ryan said. “We saw more moms reading in the program this year, too.”

And for Espina, the books unleashed a sense of adventure. When she read stories such as, “Christmas in America,” they inspired her to dream about traveling elsewhere.

“I want to go on rides at Disneyland,” Espina said. 

In the meantime, she’ll settle for an average of three trips a week to the Princeville Library, a favorite spot of hers. Last year, Espina finished second in the reading program when she read 124 books. Instead of relishing the silver finish, she vowed to do even better this year. She upped her commitment, averaging three hours of reading per day.

“When she’s not reading she’s playing games on her Kindle,” Salvador said. “But then she goes back to her books.”

Not the electronic ones, either. Espina likes the real ones. She likes the feel of old fashioned paper and cover in her hands. 

Her reward for earning first place in the summer reading program, which is funded primarily by raising through quarterly used book sales and general membership dues paid to the Friends of the North Shore Library at Princeville, was bookmarks, pencils and stickers. 

Next year, she said she’ll be back to try and beat her own record. Not because she’s ultra an competitive kid, rather she just enjoys reading. At the end of the day, she said, the reason she flies through so many pages is because it’s plain old fun to do.

“My favorite part of reading is learning about characters and what they do,” she said.

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Lisa Ann Capozzi, a features and education reporter can be reached at lcapozzi@thegardenisland.com.

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