The Knox County Public Library is currently in the midst of its annual Summer Reading Program. This year’s program is called “Tails and Tales.” The purpose of summer reading is to keep students’ reading skills sharp during the summer break. Summer Reading in Vincennes is a tradition that goes back to 1928, when the program was initiated locally by then head librarian Jane Kitchell.
It was on July 20, 1927, that Miss Kitchell was appointed head librarian of what was then the Vincennes Public Library. Miss Doris McClure was appointed Children’s Librarian. The appointments were made by the Board of Education, the school board having auspices over the library at that time. Miss Kitchell had been employed at the library for more than 15 years, most of that time as assistant librarian. Upon assuming her new role, she stated that she would be undertaking several “new features” at the library.
One of those features was the first Summer Reading Program, originally called a “Summer Reading Course,” which kicked off in June 1928. Registration for the eight-week course took place on June 4 and 5, with a total of 300 children registering.
That year’s course had a travel theme, illustrating that when one read a book about some far-off place, one could in a sense, be transported to that place. Children could pick from four modes of travel, auto, boat, plane, or submarine and name their imaginary vehicle. Each week, the child who read the most books in various grade categories, got their name and the name of their vehicle written on a large blackboard. Children who read 10 books received a diploma and got a star on their diploma for each additional book read.
There were special programs, too. Laura (Mrs. Sam) Lyons spoke to the children about her travels overseas and Rose (Mrs. Leo) Schultheis gave a presentation about her trip to see the historic sites in the Eastern U.S.
More than 2,000 books were read, and 96 diplomas were handed out. George Gauer, of the George Rogers Clark School, was the top reader that summer. There was even cooperation with Vincennes schools, with the children getting credit on their next report card for the time they spent reading.
The course concluded on July 31 with a party at Harrison Park (now the site of the VU campus), with games, storytelling, refreshments and the awarding of diplomas.
In conjunction with the program, the library entered a float in the American Legion July 4th parade. The Knox County Lumber Company loaned a bright yellow flatbed truck for the reading course winners to ride on. Each child held a large oversize mock book, fashioned by Children’s Librarian McClure. The titles included the classics “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” Robinson Crusoe,” “The Little Lame Prince,” and “Heidi.”
A second library float, unrelated to Summer Reading, featured the book “Alice of Old Vincennes,” with Alice stepping from the book’s pages.
The library garnered national publicity for their first Summer Reading Course.
As noted, Summer Reading continued from that time on. Some of the most ambitious programs were held in the 1930s and early 1940s under Kitchell, who was transferred to the North Branch in 1942. In 1938, the program climax even included a reenactment by the children of the famous 1810 Harrison-Tecumseh council at Grouseland, held on the lawn of the Harrison Mansion. Perhaps nothing could top the conclusion of 1941 Summer Reading called “Age of Chivalry,” when some 300 children, many dressed in costume, portrayed the era of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table at the Gregg Park band shell.
Brian Spangle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest book, “Hidden History of Vincennes & Knox County,” published last year by The History Press, is available for purchase at the Knox County Public Library and on Amazon.