This picture may be one of my favorites. My non-stop balls of energy are spending quiet time together. At seven, Peirce would have been in the second grade and starting to read simple chapter books, but here he is sitting with four-year-old Brendan, reading a picture book to him to capture Brendan’s interest.
Early childhood literacy has long been one of my passions. Watching children read a book, or sitting next to them and reading aloud brings a special closeness and wonder to all of us. Children begin to imagine worlds beyond themselves with people and places different from them. Reading stimulates their minds and helps them grow.
But in order to read, children need to be surrounded by books. I was amazed to learn a kindergarten classroom should have 20 books available for each student. With a class of 20, that’s 400 books and none of them are generally provided by the school. Peirce’s girlfriend Kristen, a kindergarten teacher, shared this information with me as she begins to build her classroom library, one book at a time. $2,000 or more is a lot of money out of the pocket of a teacher. If you still have children in school, consider a book for the classroom as a holiday or year-end gift. It will be more appreciated than another coffee mug or apple-themed desk item.
Before children get to school, it is also important to begin a foundation for a love of books and reading. One organization which is making a difference in the lives of younger children is Reach Out and Read. Founded 27 years ago in Boston by two pediatricians with the Boston Medical Center, they seek to help disadvantaged children and their families be encouraging reading at home. To facilitate their mission, they provide a free book to parents when they bring their babies and toddlers in for check-ups. Their initial research proved that parents who are given books and literacy guidance are four times more likely to report reading aloud at home. Today, “Reach Out Read is a national organization that works through more than 6,000 program sites and serves 4.7 million young children each year, including one in four children living in poverty in this country.” A bond between parent and child is strengthened with at-home book sharing and children involved with the program significantly increased their language skills.
This March during National Childhood Literacy Month, I had the support of my workplace to organize a book drive to benefit Reach Out and Read. I am thrilled with the donation bins – over 100 new and gently used books collected from our 35-person office.
I have also adapted the mission of Reach Out and Read into my novel. Before I knew in my head my whole story arc, I created a scene where Eliza reminiscences of reading Alice in Wonderland with her Aunt Florence. Since that chapter, I’ve moved on to bring in references to The Secret Garden and the Thorton Burgess series of animal stories which I grew up reading, handed down to us from our Dad and his cousin. I spent many summer nights reading and re-reading these stories and knew I needed to include them in my novel, too.
No matter what your age, you’re never too old to Reach Out and Read.
For more information on Reach Out and Read, including ways to help them, please visit their website: http://www.reachoutandread.org/ctma/
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