NORTH LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers kicked off their inaugural summer reading tour at the North Lauderdale Saraniero Library on Wednesday, with goaltender Roberto Luongo serving as the program's first special guest reader.
With a room full of excited children hanging on his every word, the future Hall of Famer slowly made his way through the pages of "Dino-Hockey" by Lisa Wheeler, stopping only to show off colorful, wild pictures of the various prehistoric puckheads that filled the book's 30 pages.
"I've got to brush up on my dinosaurs," Luongo laughed. "Other than that, it went pretty well."
After he was done reading, Luongo stood up and took questions from the crowd of curious kids, all of them eager to learn more about hockey. The inquiries ranged from asking the 39-year-old netminder how he got into the sport to the types of injuries he's suffered over his career.
He also posed for photos and signed a few items, including, much to his surprise, a balloon.
"The kids were all excited," he said. "I signed a lot of weird things." While each kid went home with a souvenir, Luongo hopes they also left with a newfound interest in hockey.
"That's where it all begins," he said. "That's when they first get mesmerized by the sport and learn about the game and all that kind of stuff. I remember when I was a kid, looking up at the TV or at the game. That's something that I'll always remember."
In conjunction with Broward County Libraries and the Broward Public Library Foundation, the Panthers will continue their summer reading tour, visiting a total of 11 area libraries from June-August, with even more special guests, alumni and personalities expected to read.
"The summer reading program is a free resource for our community to help kids keep reading throughout the summer months," said Jessica Triana, the major gifts and planned giving officer for the Broward Public Library Foundation. "There's usually a two-and-a-half-month period when kids aren't in schools, and we're hoping that this program will help so that when they get back to school they are ready to continue learning."
In February, the Broward Public Library Foundation was awarded a grant through the Florida Panthers Foundation's Community Champions Grant Program, which is presented by Moss & Associates, LLC and the Moss Foundation. The money from that grant has since gone to help local libraries inspire new readers through funding for various initiatives and outreach programs.
During its first two seasons, the Community Champions program awarded $2 million to local organizations. "We are honored to be a Community Champions grantee this year," Triana said. "We have tons of activities and programs that are free to the community. We have anything from art classes to technological things like VR and 3-D printing that you can come check out. It's through funding dollars, like from the Panthers, that we're able to put on these programs."
For a full list of upcoming stops on the summer reading tour, please visit https://www.nhl.com/panthers/community/readingtour, where you can also download and print out and exclusive Panthers bookmark!
"We're just thrilled to have a partnership with the Panthers and are looking forward to an incredible summer," said Kimberly White, a youth services coordinator for Broward County Libraries. "We have 10 stops left and I think that each location is going to be unique."