LAWRENCEVILLE - Alexandria Johnson leaned back as far away as she could from Cornbread.
The 7-year-old Lawrenceville youth didn't seem to be taking any chances of getting too close to the striped, slithering corn snake, even though he seemed docile enough wrapped around his owner's arm.
Cornbread was part of a Summer Reading Program finale held at the Lawrenceville branch of the Gwinnett County Public Library on Monday. Magician Chad Crews pulled Cornbread out of a metal pan in which he had just placed a burning piece of paper and had quickly covered the flames with a lid. When the lid came off, Cornbread was inside.
Monday's finale at the Lawrenceville location was one of almost a dozen taking place this week to celebrate the conclusion of the annual summer program, which this year included special performances, puppet shows, story times, movies and more, and drew record numbers of participants.
"This has been our best and most highly attended Summer Reading Program in the history of our library system," said Michelle Long, director of public relations for GCPL.
As of July 13, 30,196 children and 4,242 teens had signed up for the program. The total - 34,438 - is more than 24 percent higher than last year's number at 27,625. The increase in actual attendance at summer reading program events this year has been even higher.
"At this point, we've seen a 35 percent increase in program attendance," Long said Monday. "Finales are the largest attended events, and we are definitely seeing big numbers."
Cornbread wasn't the only slithering star featured in Monday's finale at the Lawrenceville GCPL branch. After asking for assistance from an audience member, who colored a drawing of a snake using a yellow marker, Crews stuck the paper snake through one of the tiny holes in a metal screen on a wooden box. After lighting the piece of paper on fire, Crews reached into the box and pulled out Buttercup, a bright yellow, slightly longer and larger corn snake.
"It was exciting," said 5-year-old Paris-Noa Johnson, Alexandria's sister.
Cornbread and Buttercup are expected to make appearances during Crews' magic shows at library branches throughout Gwinnett this week as the 2009 Summer Reading Festival comes to a close.
SideBar: If you go
Summer Reading Program finales are planned for the following times at the branches listed. For more information, visit www.gwinnettpl.org.
· 11 a.m., Grayson branch
· 3 p.m., Snellville branch
· 7 p.m., Five Forks branch
· 11 a.m., Suwanee branch
· 3 p.m., Buford branch
· 7 p.m., Collins Hill branch
· 11 a.m., Centerville branch
· 3 p.m., Mountain Park branch
· 7 p.m., Grayson branch
· 11 a.m., Five Forks branch
· 2 p.m., Dacula branch