DOZENS of children visited libraries around the town on Saturday in an effort to keep their minds engaged during the long summer holidays.

The Summer Reading Challenge was launched officially at the weekend, in which children of all ages from around the country are challenged to read six books in seven weeks.

The main event was held at Swindon Central Library, with parents and children wowed by storybook performances from Swindon Dance, life-sized Daleks from Doctor Who, and animals from the Zoo Lab animal handling workshop.

Anish Harrison, outreach worker with Swindon Libraries, said she was hoping for an even more successful summer than last year, which saw thousands of children sign up.

“This is part of a national campaign to encourage the love of reading,” she said. “This happens every year throughout the summer holidays to stop that reading dip that occurs during that period.

“It is a fun way for kids to continue their reading in that we set them a challenge to read six books. The challenge ends on September 7, so they have to read as many as they can during that time. They are given incentives along the way, such as posters and stickers, to help them along.

“We have teamed up with the Old Town museum through which if the children go on a treasure trail with them, they get an extra prize. After four books they get a free DVD hire from any of our libraries, and after the sixth book, they get a medal and a certificate.

“Every year there is a different theme, which this year is Myths and Legends. We have been working with Swindon Dance, and some of the children there created a story dance for us.

“We are also nodding to future myths and legends, so we have Daleks coming along. All the libraries are taking part, as this happens across the country.

“This has been going for several years now, and last year we had more than 3,500 children signing up, which is fantastic. We are hoping to beat that record this year and get around 4,000 signed up.

“They can tackle any book, including audio books. If they have read a particularly hard book that will count as two.

That can include anything that challenges their reading level, so that depends on the child. If they are doing a big book that is quite substantial.”

There was a strong turn-out on the day from parents and children keen to get involved.

Andrew Wright, 35, from Rodbourne, was with his three-year-old son, Isaac.

“We tend to come along to the library on a Saturday anyway so we thought we would get signed up,” said Andrew. “Isaac has an older sister who has done this before.

“She is really into her reading, and it is really important to realise they can forget a lot during the summer. It is all about keeping up good habits.”