Was this you? Snuggled under sheets after you’d been sent to bed, a flashlight aimed toward the pages of an open book, your eyes wide awake, turning page after page, until you heard that door squeak open and the familiar voice saying, “Turn out that light and go to bed!”
You got caught reading.
I got caught reading when I was supposed to be doing my homework or studying for a test. Sometimes my sister and I, sharing a room, hid under covers or simply whispered from bed to bed until a parent stuck a head in and said, “Turn the light out, now.”
I got caught reading at school when I should have been doing algebra or biology. Up and down the back row, where I always managed to sit in those classes (as opposed to the front row in my English classes), my friends would pass dog-eared copies of forbidden books from desk to desk, classics like “Catcher in the Rye,” “All You Ever Wanted to Know about Sex But Were Afraid to Ask,” or “The Godfather.”
“Put that book away!” said the teacher, and sometimes she’d confiscate it until the end of class.
May is Get Caught Reading Month, and what a perfect month to pick up a book. Begun in 1999, Get Caught Reading Month, sponsored by the Association of American Publishing, was designed to kickstart a summer of reading for adults and children. After a wacky year of a pandemic when nothing seemed normal, especially school, there’s no better time to dive in to book after book.
As tactilely satisfying as it feels to hold a real book with real pages, research shows that it doesn’t matter so much if a child is holding a book or a tablet. What matters is that the child is reading.
Because 85% of brain development happens during the ages of 0-3, experts agree that the most critical activity for young children is reading and being read to. Early reading is directly related to educational success, according to study after study. In fact, success can be predicted by the number of books in a home, and there the numbers are startling:
According to the Handbook of Early Literacy Research, middle-income families maintain in their homes a ratio of 13 books per child, whereas low income families show a ratio of only 1 book per 300 children, and 61% of low income families have no books at all in their homes for their children.
Weirdly, a study published by The Guardian reveals that 80 books per household seems to be the magic number to encourage reading by children and result in academic success.
But perhaps the most startling data comes from the Carnegie Foundation, which states that “There is almost a 90% probability that a child will remain a poor reader at the end of the fourth grade if the child is a poor reader at the end of first grade.”
Children need, more than ever, to get caught reading. And, more than ever, our children need books in their hands, and the more books the better.
One of the most exciting ongoing programs to place books in the hands of children comes from country music legend, Dolly Parton.
In 1995, Parton began providing free books to children in Sevier County, Tennessee, where she grew up. In 2000, the program, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, expanded nationally, and is now international. Children from age 0-5, regardless of income level, upon registration, will receive one age-appropriate book per month at no cost to them or their families. That’s 60 books over 5 years! A 5-year-old will be well on the way to having that home of 80 books and will be much better prepared for success.
You can find registration information on Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library by going to https://imaginationlibrary.com/.
Here in Davidson County, NC, according to Beth Baker, Smart Start’s local affiliate coordinator for the program, over 4000 children have received books, and all children age 0-5 are eligible to sign up. This is an absolute win-win for children, parents, and the education of our children.
Another fabulous program takes place at your local library. Every year, Summer Reading Programs involve the whole family in activities, crafts, reading, and much, much more. This summer’s theme in Lexington, NC, is “Tails and Tales,” with a focus on animals of all kinds. Weekly Storytime at the library will be in-person (COVID restrictions permitting), and all children and families are invited. The kickoff for the Lexington program is Saturday, June 12, 2021, in the library parking lot, featuring a small zoo, fossil hunts, and more.
Whatever you can do, make sure that you and the children in your life get caught reading this summer. Not only will books take children to places they can only imagine, will offer adventures around the globe, will introduce them to characters that can become like their best friends, but books are also good for them. And good for you and me.
Barbara Presnell lives and writes in Lexington, NC.
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