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DANVILLE — Ronald McDonald paid a visit to East Park Elementary School on Monday to tell students about his love of reading.

"You should read a book every day," Ronald told students, who packed the gym at one of two presentations that morning. "I do, and so should you because books are our friends.

"Books can teach us anything we want to know," continued Ronald, who also encouraged students to use the library. "They can teach us how to count, how to read a map about the entire solar system. But they can't help us if we don't read them."

The Danville Public School Foundation and Vermilion County McDonald's are presenting the program, "It's Book Time with Ronald McDonald," at all elementary schools this week and next. It was funded by Vermilion County McDonald's and owners and operators Don and Deanna Witzel.

The program is endorsed by Get Caught Reading, a national reading campaign designed to help students learn the importance of books and fun of reading.

During the program, Ronald used a mix of singing, dancing, magic and comedy to reinforce the idea that reading is not only useful but that it can be fun when students read with excitement.

To illustrate, he first read a story about a storm in a monotone voice, nearly putting himself and his audience to sleep. Then he read it again — with energy and enthusiasm and sound effects for the wind, rain, thunder and lighting from students and teachers — bringing the story to life.

"See how much more fun that is when you read with excitement and picture what you're reading?" he said.

Next, Ronald tried to make a sock puppet, but it didn't turn out right because he didn't read the directions. After following the directions, the puppet, a bookworm named Stoogie, came to life.

Stoogie told students that he goes around visiting libraries to make sure patrons take care of the books by using a bookmark instead of folding the pages, handling the books with clean hands and being careful to not color or scribble on the pages.

"My three rules of books are: take care of books, take care of books and take care of books," he said.

The foundation was planning to bring another reading program into the schools this year, Executive Director Bob Richard said. He said Deanna Witzel, a board member, suggested her company's program instead and offered to underwrite it.

"It's great to have that kind of support," he said, adding the program is fun and engaging for kids.

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