BELLE, W.Va. -- Each year, Diana Dyer and her older brothers can't wait to find out what the Kanawha County Public Library summer reading program's theme will be so they can get to work.
Dyer, a librarian at Riverside High School's Public Library, uses her creativity to help bring local children's learning experiences to life by building interactive exhibits with help from her crafty brothers.
First, it was an 8-foot brachiosaurus made of cardboard. Then, it was a life-size Okabi replica -- an endangered zebra/giraffe hybrid. Last year, it was a wooden ship -- "The S.S. Imagination."
"It's a great time for the three of us. My brothers are great with their hands. Mark is my carpenter and David is my electrician. I'm the creative one," said Dyer, 22, of Chelyan, who is taking online library science classes through Northern Kentucky University. "Each year, I come home and tell them the theme and we get to brainstorming."
But this summer, a major piece of the puzzle was missing. Dyer's brother Mark, 25, was deployed to Afghanistan.
"We had a hard time getting motivated this year. Our biggest problem was not having him around. We kept saying things like 'If Mark would've been here, that wouldn't have happened,'" she said.
But once the family learned this summer's theme was "Reading is a Blast," they started to get excited and got to planning -- including Mark by way of the Internet.
"It was hard at first, but then we started to see the idea come together and we felt better. We Skyped with Mark during the brainstorming process. We would hold up pictures and show him our ideas. Then he would send us dimensions," she said.
The Dyers created a spaceship that the children participating in the program can crawl inside and view videos about the planets, watch laser shows and experience asteroid storms.
"Each year, we try to get more lifelike and more interactive," she said.
The Kanawha County Public Library's annual summer reading club encourages children and their families to read more and engage in the arts and other interactive learning programs.
Dyer said not only do the children enjoy her exhibits each year, but it also helps them learn.
"We always see an increase in kids checking out books related to whatever the display is about. It can really help encourage early literacy. It's nice to see them set aside their devices and step away from technology and use their imaginations," she said. "There are computers right next to the spaceship that go untouched."
Reach Mackenzie Mays at Mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.