PENDLETON - The Umatilla County Special Library District received a state award Tuesday for a new program that encourages preschool children to read and gets them ready to learn in school.

The program - called "Take Off!" - brings storytime to local day cares, preschools, Head Start classes and the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said Ken Reading, library district coordinator.

"Storytelling is a big part of it, but it also involves puppetry, music, and books," Reading said. "It doesn't teach children to read, but it gets them in the learning curve, it gets them ready for a school-like setting."

"Take Off!" was in it first year last year. It is funded in part with a state Ready to Read Grant and was one of 111 such projects in Oregon for the 2001-02 school year.

The Umatilla County program was one of just six that won a Ready to Read Grant Outstanding Project Award.

"Take Off!" reached 245 children last year with readings, usually once a month. This year, the program is expanding to 500 children in Umatilla County.

"Our goal is to do 750 next year," Reading said. "It's a real popular program, and we haven't had any problems growing."

The program has two reading presenters right now, but Reading hopes to get a third next year.

Though the state funding for the program dropped from $9,000 to $7,000 this year because of state funding woes, "Take Off!" got $15,000 in new funding from the Umatilla County Commission on Children and Families.

The Umatilla County Special Library District also will put $12,000 of its own funds into the program this year.

The library district is a coalition and main funding source for 11 of the 12 separate city libraries in Umatilla County, Reading said. Hermiston doesn't participate, though its library does get some services from the district, Reading added.

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