SALT LAKE CITY — Balloons, face painting, the smell of popcorn and the ticking sounds from a spinning prize wheel. All parts of KSL's message: Reading is fun.
"Hence the balloon archway, streamers and candy," said Lizzy Johnson, managing director of Read Today.
Families milled around the fountains at Gateway, stopping by vendor booths or listening to the live Western music during KSL's Family Book Festival and Foster Care Chalk Art Festival, Saturday. Children also posed for pictures with Woody and Jessie from Toy Story.
Deanie Wimmer, CEO of Read Today, said the combined festivals were an opportunity to bring together and celebrate Utah families.
The Read Today booth, a central part of the festival, gave away 3,000 books, and 400 pounds of candy from the candy buffet. Volunteers painted at least 300 faces, gave away 500 balloon animals and 500 regular balloons by about 4 p.m., Johnson said. They also gave out cowboy hats to kids who promised to read all summer.
"There are few things parents can do that would help their kids more than to read with their children at home. Kids who don't read can lose up to one third of what they learned during the school year. Parents can stop what's called the 'summer slide' by reading every day to their kids," Wimmer said.
Gateway Mall provides a "natural, built-in audience," Johnson said, and was an ideal venue. Roughly 20,000 came to the festival by its third hour, almost doubling the crowd from previous years.
This is the fourth year of Read Today's festival and its second partnering with the Family Book Festival.
Read Today is powered by KSL and is an initiative to get more kids reading and improve awareness of the need for literacy. They also provide an online reading tracker where kids can log their reading and qualify for prizes and Bees baseball tickets. The initiative also offers free tutoring to schools.
When asked why this intiative was so vital, Johnson said reading is an investment in the future.
"Reading is the most fundamental thing that a person needs to survive in life, to have success," she said.
Just beyond the Read Today booth, families lined up for face painting, carnival games and balloon animals, inside the Union Pacific Building.
Sheena Green brought her two children and their friends to the festival. She said her girls track their reading on the Read Today website and the festival is another way for them to enjoy reading.
"I'm glad that's a passion they have. Programs like this help reinforce that it's fun."
Go to ReadToday.com for more information.