National City library commemorated the final day children could sign up for this year’s summer reading program on July 30 with a raffle, free books, activities and the highlight of the day: a magic show performed by Rafael the Magician.
The foyer to the community room inside the library held a low table, kid-height, where young readers could take a guess at how many pieces of candy a single jar contained.
Inside, the entire back wall of the community room was lined with tables laid out with children’s books, free to attendees. Board books like Dragons are Real and Baby Touch and Feel were stacked at one end of the lineup for parents to read with toddlers and preschoolers, alongside emerging reader favorites like Junie B. Jones, a first step toward chapter books. Books in Spanish were interspersed with those in English, familiar titles like Eric Carle’s “La Oruga Muy Hambrienta”/”The Very Hungry Caterpillar” while older readers could pick up a copy of “Displaced,” “Resurrection Girls” or Percy Jackson’s “Greek Heroes.”
Gesturing over to the wall of books, Rafael the Magician said his own career as a performer, which has taken him to hundreds of schools, fairs and events all began at the public library where he grew up in East Los Angeles.
“It all started with a book on magic, checked out from the library. I was hooked. When I was eight years old, I saw David Copperfield and that was it, I had to be a magician,” the performer said.
California actually has one of the lowest fourth-grade reading literacy rates in the country, according to data aggregator USA Facts, the average grade of children at the show who appeared to be between five and 10 years old. Throughout his performance, the magician encouraged all the children to pursue books that interest them and develop a love of reading.
Books and magic “made my life unique” he said, and although he has a wide repertoire of performances, his favorite is still performing for children.
The magician switched back and forth between English and Spanish throughout the performance, choosing several young volunteers to help out with different tricks as well as a few parents to participate as part of the show.
“Stephanie, what are you doing? I told you to throw the rope. Come on, this is the end of summer reading program, we’re here to do magic,” he said, weaving in a bit of commentary about books as he led children through illusions with the help of a young volunteer.
Alan, 7, seemed especially curious about whether the bird Rafael the Magician had magically made appear and then disappear at the start of the show was going to be okay, questioning where he had flown after the first trick was complete.
“Where’s the bird,” he kept asking, only to have the magician reassure him the animals were all okay.
A stuffed Peppa Pig toy made multiple appearances while jokes about how she was “the best” cartoon provoked laughter and a few objections from many of the children sprawled out on the carpeted floor.
Pretending to misunderstand eight year-old volunteer Caitlin, the magician repeatedly said in a serious tone that he understood she “ate breakfast” but wanted to know her age— giggles filled the room as the bit unfolded with both performer and volunteer in on the joke.
Library staff members were included in the show as well, to more laughter from children. Meanwhile, library staff reminded families it was the last day to sign up for the summer reading program.
Extended library hours began on Aug. 1.