Reading books regularly to kids from the time they are infants is one of the best ways to get them ready for kindergarten.
Children who are regularly read to have better language skills and are more interested in reading, research shows. Parents who take the time to read to their kids help build nurturing relationships, which are key for the cognitive, language and social-emotional development of the child, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The group published a report last year recommending that kids are read to starting at birth.
But that goal of regular reading time is nearly impossible for many kids living in poverty. According to Reading is Fundamental, about two-thirds of children living in poverty in this country have no books at home. And, as their parents struggle with day-to-day living, trips to the library likely aren't on the agenda.
WAKE Up and Read is hoping to fix that - 10 books at a time. The organization, a collaborative of 24 groups in Wake County, including Wake County Public School System, is in the midst of a book drive to raise 100,000 books. The drive, originally scheduled to end March 2, will run until March 16 because of the icy, snowy weather of the past few weeks.
Once the book drive is complete, the group will deliver the books to needy students at nine elementary schools across Wake County. Each child will get to select their own 10 books on distribution days at the schools.
At the same time, WAKE Up and Read also will hand out books to younger children at child care centers and other programs in the communities where those nine schools are located. That way, those children, who likely will eventually move into the neighborhood elementary schools, will have books in their early years.
"It's hard for a lot of us to think about growing up without our favorite books and reading them over and over," said Diana Graham, a Raleigh mom of two and president of Bonnie's Book Foundation, which is part of WAKE Up and Read. "But the majority of kids living below the poverty line have no books. The best predictor of academic success is books in the house, book rich environments."
While there's a lot of discussion and debate about school quality, school funding, testing and other issues, putting a book in a child's hand is something that anybody can do to help build strong readers, who have a better chance of graduating high school and being productive members of society.
"To me, it's a pretty simple intervention," Graham said.
The issue is close to Graham's heart. Graham, along with her siblings, continue the work of their mother - Bonnie Graham, who worked for years as a tutor.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer and thinking about her own mark on the world, Bonnie Graham created Bonnie's Book Foundation in 1998 to help children in schools across the Chicago area where she lived. She held book drives and delivered books to schools in the area. She died in 2006 when her cancer returned.
Diana Graham has held smaller book drives in the Triangle for Bonnie's Book Foundation. But she was excited to connect with WAKE Up and Read, which can collect many more books thanks to its size and various partners.
"It's been really cool to connect with this group," she said. "It made sense to me to throw my energy into this since we are talking about big numbers."
Seeing the community come together to collect books is rewarding, but Graham said she loves watching the kids actually start their own home library. Many of the kids are shocked that they can actually keep the books for themselves, forever.
"The kids are so excited," she said. "It's like you're giving them an Xbox. They are jumping up and down."
With the drive extended through March 16, there's plenty of time to go through your shelves and closets for books that your children have outgrown or don't want. The group needs gently used books for kids ages 0 to 12. Collection spots are located across Wake County, including at Cary Towne Center where the group's sorting facility is located.
It also will need volunteers in the coming weeks to help sort books and get them ready for distribution. Families are invited to join in to help out. Graham said grade schoolers are especially helpful when sorting books.
The WAKE Up and Read website has more information about how to donate books and how to sign up to volunteer.
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