P.J. McIlvaine holds her book, "Little Lena and the Big...

P.J. McIlvaine holds her book, "Little Lena and the Big Table," and her dog Luna in Sound Beach on May 4. She will read her book to children alongside Luna at Indian Island County Park in Riverhead on May 13. Credit: Randee Daddona

Cackling. Arms flapping. Talking to invisible friends.

Imagination will rule at Suffolk County's debut Reading Around the Parks event Saturday, where youngsters have been invited to attend outdoor readings by children's authors voicing their books. 

Author P.J. McIlvaine loves seeing children’s faces when she acts like a baby and also a grumpy grandpa in "Little Lena and the Big Table," about a girl who wants to ditch the kiddie table to dine with adults.

“It’s almost like a dramatic reading for me,” says Sound Beach retiree McIlvaine, 67, who remembers her own desire to leave her childhood kiddie table. “If you just read it as a dry book report, it’s not going to engage the kids.”

In some, serious messages can be evident, like the one about a police officer’s job and a girl whose dark skin should be celebrated.

The event will be held 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Indian Island County Park in Riverhead, noon to 3 p.m. at Blydenburgh County Park in Hauppauge and 2 to 5 p.m. at Gardiner County Park in Bay Shore. About four writers will be featured in each park. It’s geared toward children ages 3 to 10. Families may bring blankets and snacks.

As part of the goal to boost interest in reading, several books are being translated into Spanish, so there will also be bilingual readings.

Reading Around the Park is part of the county health department’s Smart Start Suffolk, an early childhood program launched last year and partly geared toward kindergarten readiness, says its director, Portia Ingram. With studies showing early learning being key to children’s success, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and other county officials were concerned that youngsters in some communities lagged behind peers around the county and nation, she explains.

“We wanted to really put out there the need to make sure our communities were looking at children’s emotional skills, looking at literacy in the homes,” Ingram says.

At Gardiner Park, Adriana Devers plans to emphasize acceptance, so she’ll read her book, "Valentina Valenti: She Is My Dad."

“It’s about an 8-year-old who found her voice when somebody questioned her family structure,” says Devers, of Westbury, a day care owner.

Devers hopes her young listeners will appreciate the art, which portrays diversity in the characters’ skin tones and hair styles: “I want them to look at it and say ‘Oh, she looks like me.’ It’s one of the things in there that allows conversations with children.”

Most of the authors aren’t full-time writers, but some have found success.

Letty Sustrin, 84, didn’t want to retire from teaching but did in 1998 and, four years later, published “The Teacher Who Would Not Retire.”

She turned gray-haired Mrs. Belle into a series of six books and thinks her audience at Gardiner Park will get the point.

“I want them to know what retirement means,” says Sustrin, of Deer Park. “It’s not the end of a person’s life. There’s so much more that you can do, even though you are a senior.”

By putting children and Long Island authors together, Ingram says the readings might inspire youngsters to write while allowing the authors to shine.

“I want families of almost all ages, young and old children, to come out and enjoy the day,” Ingram says, “and hopefully walk away with a new, favorite author.”

Cackling. Arms flapping. Talking to invisible friends.

Imagination will rule at Suffolk County's debut Reading Around the Parks event Saturday, where youngsters have been invited to attend outdoor readings by children's authors voicing their books. 

Author P.J. McIlvaine loves seeing children’s faces when she acts like a baby and also a grumpy grandpa in "Little Lena and the Big Table," about a girl who wants to ditch the kiddie table to dine with adults.

“It’s almost like a dramatic reading for me,” says Sound Beach retiree McIlvaine, 67, who remembers her own desire to leave her childhood kiddie table. “If you just read it as a dry book report, it’s not going to engage the kids.”

In some, serious messages can be evident, like the one about a police officer’s job and a girl whose dark skin should be celebrated.

The event will be held 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Indian Island County Park in Riverhead, noon to 3 p.m. at Blydenburgh County Park in Hauppauge and 2 to 5 p.m. at Gardiner County Park in Bay Shore. About four writers will be featured in each park. It’s geared toward children ages 3 to 10. Families may bring blankets and snacks.

As part of the goal to boost interest in reading, several books are being translated into Spanish, so there will also be bilingual readings.

Author Adriana Devers of Westbury outside her home on May 3 with the book she will be reading at the Reading Around the Park this Saturday.  Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Reading Around the Park is part of the county health department’s Smart Start Suffolk, an early childhood program launched last year and partly geared toward kindergarten readiness, says its director, Portia Ingram. With studies showing early learning being key to children’s success, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and other county officials were concerned that youngsters in some communities lagged behind peers around the county and nation, she explains.

“We wanted to really put out there the need to make sure our communities were looking at children’s emotional skills, looking at literacy in the homes,” Ingram says.

At Gardiner Park, Adriana Devers plans to emphasize acceptance, so she’ll read her book, "Valentina Valenti: She Is My Dad."

“It’s about an 8-year-old who found her voice when somebody questioned her family structure,” says Devers, of Westbury, a day care owner.

Devers hopes her young listeners will appreciate the art, which portrays diversity in the characters’ skin tones and hair styles: “I want them to look at it and say ‘Oh, she looks like me.’ It’s one of the things in there that allows conversations with children.”

Most of the authors aren’t full-time writers, but some have found success.

Letty Sustrin, 84, didn’t want to retire from teaching but did in 1998 and, four years later, published “The Teacher Who Would Not Retire.”

She turned gray-haired Mrs. Belle into a series of six books and thinks her audience at Gardiner Park will get the point.

“I want them to know what retirement means,” says Sustrin, of Deer Park. “It’s not the end of a person’s life. There’s so much more that you can do, even though you are a senior.”

By putting children and Long Island authors together, Ingram says the readings might inspire youngsters to write while allowing the authors to shine.

“I want families of almost all ages, young and old children, to come out and enjoy the day,” Ingram says, “and hopefully walk away with a new, favorite author.”

Reading Around the Parks

WHEN | WHERE Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Indian Island County Park in Riverhead, noon to 3 p.m. at Blydenburgh County Park in Hauppauge and 2 to 5 p.m. at Gardiner County Park in Bay Shore. Bring a blanket or chair.

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