If you were writing the book of a child's life wouldn't you like it to have a happy ending? Every day more children are signing up for a Kalamazoo Public Library program intended to give them a life that includes loving the reading of books.
Once upon a time there was a child hungry for words. Words strung together make stories, and stories make a child’s heart race and imagination soar, so this child picked up a book and then picked up 999 more.
Andrea Vernola, children’s programming librarian at Kalamazoo Public Library, 315 South Rose Street, knows this story well. Together with Sue Warner, head of youth services, and Judy Rambow, lead librarian at Alma Powell and Eastwood Branch Libraries, the three sat down to brainstorm a new children’s reading program called 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten
. It’s a program of a thousand "once upon a times" with happy endings.
"You can read the book yourself or have it read to you," says Vernola. "You can read the book to your brother or sister and it will count for both of you. You can sing the book, or you can just tell the book. Whatever builds enjoyment in the process of reading."
The new 1,000 Books program, launched in December 2013 and partially funded by a Target Early Childhood Reading grant, has about 350 children signed up to date, with more signing up daily. All five branches are involved: the central library in downtown Kalamazoo, Eastwood, Oshtemo, Alma Powell and Washington Square.
"1,000 books may sound like a lot," says Vernola with a smile. "But it’s not so many that it’s impossible, and there is no timeline. The preschoolers? Not at all overwhelmed by such a number. Eight have reached the goal already. They get excited!"
The program, Vernola says, was made as easy as possible to complete. Sign up at any library location, pick up a reading log or download one
; record each book that you share and enjoy, even the ones you repeat more than once; bring it in to your friendly children’s librarian each time you reach 50 books.
"Then we give the child a prize," says Vernola. "Stickers, pencils, bookmarks. Kids love stickers. At 250, 500 and 750 books read, the child gets a book of their own, to keep. At 1,000, we award a certificate of completion and a KPL tote bag."
Reading with your baby, toddler or preschooler, Vernola says, is the best way to prepare a child for reading on his or her own. "Research shows that reading with a child improves vocabulary, introduces a child to sounds, phonics--not to mention strengthens family bonding. You can’t quantify that, but the kind of family bonding built on reading together helps a child in all areas of life."
Vernola points to a study by the National Early Literacy Panel
(NELP), that says 37 percent of children reaching fourth grade fail to attain basic levels of reading achievement. That percentage climbs even higher when paired with factors of low-income, ethnic minority groups, or families in which English is not the first language spoken.
According to NELP, "Conventional reading and writing skills that are developed in the years from birth to age 5 have a clear and consistently strong relationship with later conventional literacy skills." In other words, reading to children from birth to preschool can make a measurable difference in a child’s reading readiness.
"We’ve also found that these children are more comfortable with using the library later on their own," Vernola adds. "A program like this introduces a child to the library. And they see their parents come into the library and read. They learn about the library as a resource, and that’s really valuable when they start to have homework or just want to read on their own."
Kalamazoo Public Library has 13,650 juvenile cardholders (under 11) and 70,450 total cardholders, says Vernola. "Circulation numbers have been going up every year," she says. "All our programs are free, and this gives children and their parents a chance to find out about other preschool programs, too. Our summer reading program
, for instance, kicks off in June."
All it takes to get a library card, Vernola says, is to have a parent or guardian show a photo ID with proof of address to get a card for the child. Some parents choose to get a card right away for their preschooler. As a parent of a preschooler herself and another on the way, Vernola has chosen to wait until her daughter, Cadence, 3, is old enough to value having her own library card.
"Kids get very excited about having their very own library card," she says. "It’s a big deal to them. We make regular visits to Kalamazoo Public Schools to talk to kids about their library. We talk to them about what they can do at the library and what grownups do at the library: download books and CDs, use a streaming video service, find jobs, type a paper … reading is a lifelong thing. Kids from KPS come to the library three times a year as a field trip, and by their third time, the library becomes a comfort zone."
Vernola has worked at the Kalamazoo Public Library for three years, but has worked at other libraries for many more. "I credit my mom for my love of libraries," she smiles. "Both of my parents read all the time, and I saw that as a child. I loved coming to the library as a kid and pick what I wanted from the shelf. I have great memories of my mom bringing me to story time, sitting in big bean chairs, or on colorful carpet squares."
School libraries and public libraries are both essential, Vernola says. Each serves a different purpose and complements the other. In a recent 3-to-1 landslide vote to approve the millage for Kalamazoo Public Libraries, the Kalamazoo community apparently agrees.
"At the library, we believe that parents and caregivers are a child’s first and best teacher. One of the best things we can do for our children is to read to them, make books a part of their lives," says Vernola. "Reading is a gift parents give to their children."
Zinta Aistars is creative director for Z Word, LLC, and editor of the literary magazine, The Smoking Poet. She lives on a farm in Hopkins.
Photos by Erik Holladay.
Listen Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 9:50 a.m., 4:29 p.m., 5:44 p.m., for Zinta Aistars' report on the 1,000 Books program on WMUK, 102.1 FM.
The readers pictured above are, from left: Abigail Osborn, 8, Eliza Wendt, 3, Bram Gardner, 2, and Rebekah Osborn, 8.