HARTLAND, Maine — “Do you always shake and wiggle around like that or are you just excited?” asked a reporter.
“I’m just excited,” said 9-year-old Jayden Maynard, sitting astride a new bicycle he won Thursday from the Corinthian Masonic Lodge 95’s Bikes for Books program.
“What do you think of your new bike?” queried the reporter. Drawing deep from that well of excitement, Maynard barked out, “AWESOME!”
“That’s a good way to explain it,” a nearby teacher said with a chuckle.
Maynard read eight books for the program — his favorite was “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth” — which afforded him eight chances to win the bike Thursday during a two-school assembly at Hartland Consolidated School. The Bikes for Books program, which was started about five years ago in Maine by the Masonic Lodge in Madison, has grown to the point that this spring, the Masons are giving away some 700 bicycles and helmets statewide. Twenty of those bikes went Thursday to students from Hartland and St. Albans who are in kindergarten through fourth grade.
“It has spread like wildfire,” said Matthew Fowle of St. Albans, a lodge member who had the pleasure of drawing the winning names Thursday. “I think I’m more excited than the kids are.”
That’s questionable, judging by the the responses of more than 200 children, who erupted in sudden and deafening applause whenever a name was called. Most of the winners pumped their arms in the air in triumph as they threaded through the throng, a scene reminiscent of the television game show “The Price Is Right” when the announcer hollers, “Come on down!”
The Masons, using proceeds from fundraising and donations, purchased the bicycles at cost from bike manufacturer Huffy. A volunteer truck driver brought them to Maine, mostly from California. The Masons assembled them and, for their part, the students have been reading books at a feverish pace.
“It really caused them to read a lot more books than normal,” said Beth Downing, who teaches third grade at Hartland Consolidated School. “With a lot of kids, something like this is enough to spark a long-term interest in reading.”
Fourth-grader Elijah Griffith of Hartland (favorite book: “Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot”) said the same thing about his new bike as Maynard did: “Awesome!”
“I thought it was somebody else when they called my name,” he said.
“So what’s the coolest thing about your new bike?” asked the reporter.
“Everything!” said Griffith.