Five Montana public libraries will be welcoming a bear or two in a plan to encourage early reading. And no, there won't be any live bears in the building.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Montana State Library have a new Trunk program called "Ready 2 Read Goes Wild Bear Trunk." The trunks are full of materials, including a bear skull and a sample of fur. The libraries which get them can then check out the trunks to people who want to use the material to help share language, literacy and nature with children aged 3 to 7. (It even can be used with adults).

The trunk has 27 activities - including art, music, reading and math sections. So far, five libraries have the trunks ready for free check out, including the Darby Community Public Library in the Bitterroot Valley. The other trunks are at the Madison Valley Public Library in Ennis, the Lincoln County Public Library in Libby, the Choteau/Teton Public Library in Choteau and the Stillwater County Public Library in Columbus, Montana.

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Della van Setten of the Choteau library has used the trunk in her storytime. In a news release, she said, "The children loved getting to touch the bear fur and handle the skull. The kids already knew a lot about bears, but using the bear trunk facilitated a conversation that allowed us to clear up misinformation and expand on their knowledge." That's very important in areas like Choteau on the Front Range of the Rockies, where grizzly bear activity has been increasing.

The trunk was created using ideas from the Growing Up Wild and the Project Wild activity guides, which follow Head Start and National Association for the Education of Young Children standards. Amelea Kimm, Montana State Library lifelong reading librarian, has more information at 406 444-0224. You can also see the Ready 2 Read Goes Wild website.

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