Normally, one would associate the opportunity to interact with wild animals with an event along the lines of a nature hike or a mobile petting zoo.

But at Willow Primary School in Pekin, those animals will be part of a theme for the school’s Family Reading Night next Thursday. The event is an opportunity for students and their families to come together and learn more about reading through different activities, according to Willow School first-grade teacher Danielle Lavin.

“We have rooms for (kindergarten through third grade students) where they can come in with their families and learn some reading strategies,” said Lavin. “We have other opportunities that expose them to things that enrich their vocabulary.”

Lavin added that Family Reading Night organizers choose a theme for each year’s event and plan activities around that theme. In accordance with this year’s wilderness theme, the school has invited representatives of Wildlife Prairie Park in Hanna City.

They are coming with multiple animals,” she said “They will be talking about where you can find these animals in the wilderness and what they do there.”

The school is encouraging families who participate with this year’s Reading Night to dress in accordance with the wilderness theme. Davin recommended such apparel as flannels or camouflage and accessories like walking sticks and theme-appropriate hats.

In addition to family reading activities and guest presenters from Wildlife Prairie Park, Family Reading Night will feature local Girl Scouts and staff from the Pekin Public Library, Davin added. Visitors will have an opportunity to sign up for library cards.

“We will also have WOOF (We Offer Our Friends, which is a therapy dog organization,” Davin added. “They came in last year and they were a big hit. The kids really enjoyed reading to the dog, and that’s what they’ll be doing (this year). It’s mostly for the students to be able to feel comfortable. Reading out loud and using the strategies they’ve been learning is something they can do at home and a lot of them may have pets.”

Free books will be available for students to take home, courtesy of the Willow School’s Parent Teacher Association.

“They made a big donation this year and we are incredibly grateful to them because it’s a really wonderful gift to be able to give our kids.”

Family Reading Night will take place from 6 to 7 p.m. Feb. 20.

“Each year we try to think about how we can get the community involved and how we can give opportunities and experiences to our families that will be meaningful and worthwhile,” said Davin. “We want families to come because we want people to come together to learn more about reading and have a fun night.”