Furry pets – and others not so fuzzy – again will play a role in the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Summer Reading Challenge.

The program kicks off Saturday, June 1. Registration can be completed at columbuslibrary.org or at any of the system’s 22 branches and the Main Library, 96 S. Grant Ave. in downtown Columbus.

“Kids gravitate toward the animals,” said Ben Zenitsky, spokesman for the library system.

“Everything we do ties back to books and reading,” he said, “so anytime there is an animal program, our staff will fill up our shelves with books about those animals to get kids interested.”

The Summer Reading Challenge is free. Library cards, which also are free, are required to register, Zenitsky said.

He said the parade of animals will include wolves, foxes, turtles and other reptiles as well as certified therapy dogs, which seem to put the youngsters at ease.

“What’s been found is children are more comfortable reading to dogs, oftentimes, than other people,” Zenitsky said, “so it’s a great way for early readers to start building those critical literacy skills.”

In addition, the summer course will feature guests, such as musicians, magicians, artists and storytellers, he said.

An events page set to go live June 1 on the library’s website will detail specific activities slated at each location, he said.

The program ends Aug. 3.

Throughout the summer, children can earn prizes by reading and competing in literacy activities on the library’s website, Zenitsky said. Children will vie for gift cards, coupons, tickets to local shows and a bicycle for a boy and girl at each location, he said.

Young people should incorporate reading into their full complement of summer activities, said Carly Thompson, youth services supervisor at the Parsons branch library, 1113 Parsons Ave. in south Columbus.

“Summer Reading Challenge is a great way to keep kids reading all summer long,” Thompson said.

“We know that kids who don’t read over the summer can actually lose critical reading skills, which puts them at a big disadvantage when it comes time to return to school in the fall.”