Unalaska students are back at school Tuesday, including 5-year-old Stephen Black.
Over the past year, he's prepared for Eagle's View Elementary Achigaalux by accepting the library's challenge to read "1,000 Books Before Kindergarten."
He submitted his final reading log last week and became the first Unalaskan to accomplish the feat.
"Triceratops, Diplodocus, Tyrannosaurus rex, and also Spinosaurus …"
Stephen Black is browsing Unalaska's public library, picking out books and naming all the dinosaurs he knows.
"Baryonyx! He lived during the last period," he says. "Brachiosaurus and triceratops lived during the Cretaceous. It's cool!"
Stephen knows a lot of cool facts. Mostly about animals — like komodo dragons and reef sharks, army ants and harpy eagles. He credits a good chunk of his knowledge to the library.
"Yeah! We spend a lot of time here," he says.
So how did he end up doing the 1,000 books challenge?
"Oh! I was 4 when we started," he says.
"We" is Stephen and his mom, Carolyn Black. She signed him up for the challenge last fall after their family moved to the island.
They've been reading before bedtime to help Stephen get ready — and excited — for kindergarten.
"It's just a great program to get kids used to reading and having to sit and pay attention," she says.
While Carolyn still does most of the actual reading, Stephen is starting to learn too. He's getting in the habit of practicing — and picking up a few words on his own.
"We've gotten to where he can read some ..." Carolyn starts before Stephen interjects.
"Do you know what's the biggest fish?" he asks. "The sunfish!"
That kind of interest in learning is the whole point of the reading challenge.
Librarian Karen Kresh says Unalaska joined the nationwide initiative to encourage families to read together.
"The big idea behind it is getting parents to think about reading even before their kids are 1-year-olds," she says. "Because reading is so important for childhood development and getting them ready to learn in school."
Kresh says a handful of families are participating in the program, and a few are up to 500 books. She hopes more will sign up this year.
But for now, Stephen is the lone finisher — and he's not stopping at 1,000 books. In fact, he's heading for the library check-out desk.
"We should take this one home," he says, selecting another item from a shelf.
Before his books are scanned, Stephen earns a certificate from the library staff and they hold a small ceremony in his honor.
"We have a medal for you," says Kresh. "It says '1,000 Books Before Kindergarten.' Congratulations!"
Stephen also gets to choose a new, free book to take home as a prize, and he's pretty happy with the selection.
"A little book of dinosaurs!" he says.
All young Unalaskans are invited to join the challenge to read 1,000 books before kindergarten.
Kids can sign up at the library and receive reading logs for 100 books. When they complete one sheet, they'll each earn a free book and a new log. They're also welcome to reread their favorites as often as they like.