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Celebrating National Reading Month: The importance of reading to kids

 March 18, 2024 at 2:17 PM PDT

S1: It's time for Midday Edition on Kpbs. March is National Reading month. We'll talk about programs to get your kids excited about opening the books. I'm Jade Hindman. Here's to conversations that keep you informed , inspired , and make you think. A program connects military families through reading.

S2: Even though he wasn't there , but I could use our video recordings from United through Reading so that she could still see and hear dad and have him be a really important part of her day.

S1: Plus , a program called librarian on the go makes reading more accessible , and a local author encourages readers to celebrate those with autism. That's ahead on Midday Edition. Welcome in San Diego , it's Jade Hindman. March is national reading month. We'll tell you about a program that connects military families through reading , and another that brings the librarian right to your doorstep. This is Midday Edition , connecting our communities through conversation. March is National Reading Month , and one of the biggest things we can do as parents is read to our children. A 2019 study from Ohio State University found that if we read just one book each day to our child , they'll hear nearly 300,000 words by the age of five. But for military families who may be separated for long stretches , forming a daily reading routine can be a challenge. One San Diego organization is providing ways for military members to read to their kids , regardless of where they are. Midday Edition's Andrew Bracken sat down with Jessica Hall , who is with that organization called United Through Reading.


S2: Reading is foundational to all the learning that we do , and so being great at reading , knowing how to read is going to help you. Even in Stem careers , you're going to have to read how to do different parts of jobs or communicate how to do that. And that's what reading sets you up to do.


S2: It also creates emotional connections , relationships between family members. And it's just a great way to stay connected and open up those discussions that you can have together as a family.

S3: So tell us more about your organization , United through Reading.

S2: Um , we brought VHS cameras to the piers to record service members as they got on the ships to go on deployments , and the families got a book and a video recording to watch on demand while their sailor was away at sea. And we continue to do that. We've now connected over 3 million military family members through shared story time with our video recordings. We no longer use VHS tapes , as you can imagine , but we do have a free app and everything is cloud based and we're able to instantly connect to those family members on demand whenever they're missing their loved one that's away from home for whatever reason , whether it's a long deployment or a training or , you know , just a workday , kids will miss their military family member at any point in the day. And so this allows them to always be able to make that connection with them through story time , which just has such an impact on all parts of their life.

S3: And , you know , kind of as you mentioned there , I mean , deployments can be a very emotional experience , I imagine , for military families and you yourself are part of one.

S2: So while we have technology now that can connect us instantaneously or do video chat , sometimes that's not available to our military families due to connectivity issues or like I said , different time zones. Right when my husband was deployed to the Middle East and our daughter was very young , whenever he was free to talk , she was not awake or she might have been at daycare. And so it was really hard to find those times for them to connect. On top of the fact that one year olds are very bad at FaceTime of. You have ever tried to video chat with a young kid ? They just don't get it yet , obviously. And so when we use United through Reading , we were able to keep that connection going in a way that she was used to. We read before bed every day. He got to read her a book too , even though he wasn't there. But I could use our video recordings from United through Reading so that she could still see and hear dad and have him be a really important part of her day.

S3: So with United through reading , can you can you walk us through how it works ? So yes , I mean , on the FaceTime thing , I can totally back you up by FaceTime with the young kids. I remember my kids would kind of leave the phone in a random room and just leave , you know , like this.

S2: Or they hold it up and take you on a tour of the house , right ? Yeah.

S3: So your guys approach is basically to allow the parent to pre-record these stories , and then you can kind of plug it into your own nightly bedtime reading routines.

S2: So what you would do , and our program is open not only to active duty , but also to veterans of the military. And so with our free app , what you do is you log in and then you record yourself using your video camera on your mobile device , reading the story. It's then sent to the caregiver and they can play it on demand. So it's always available for you to access , and you can build a whole library of stories to pick from. And then , you know , if the kid misses mom or dad in the middle of the day , you can just grab that mobile device and play it for them. If you want to incorporate it into bedtime , you can do the same thing. So it's not live. It's we like to call it Storytime on Demand.

S3: You know , you talked about that upheaval of routine. Can you talk a little bit more about , you know , routine and sort of what it means in the daily lives of kids like its importance ? Yeah.

S2: So routines are really important for young children and for all kids really , so that they know what to expect next. You build in those expectations. So you wake up , you brush your teeth , you get dressed , you eat breakfast , you go to school , and then in the classroom , teachers have routine set as well , right ? Like English is always at the same time. Math is at the same time , all of that. So kids know what to expect next. And when you have a military member out of the house , that whole routine is disrupted , right ? So maybe the military service member always drives them to school. Well , they're no longer able to do that. So all of your expectations shift wherever we can help maintain those routines is really important for kids , for just knowing what to expect next. On our website , we offer a number of resources that are available to anyone. We have reading trackers so that you can track how many books that you're reading. We have a fun bingo game that encourages you to read different types of books , and we also have a literacy guide with tips on how to read to different age groups of kids. So how you read a book to a toddler is going to be a little bit different than how you read a book to a kindergartener , because there are comprehension level is different , so you can use some different tactics to really get into that learning while you're reading. Yeah.

S3: Yeah. Can you dive into that a bit more ? I mean , what are some of the different challenges with connecting , you know , kids of different ages with reading ? Yeah.

S2: So with your littlest kids , you're doing a lot of pointing at pictures , you know , pointing out what's that color or associating the words that you're saying with the pictures on the page. And then as your kids get older , you can start asking more difficult questions like , what happened to the character in this book ? Or why do you think they did that ? How do you think they're feeling ? And you can use those books to process emotions or just kind of explore whatever the topic is a little bit more ? And so if you pick a book with maybe about an animal , you can explore and learn more about the animal and get a little bit more into the details as they get older and they have more of those brain connections being made. But that being said , zero like infants , are making thousands of brain connections every moment in their life as they are literally figuring out what's happening in our world and around them. And so it's really important to read to our infants and just point out what feels really simple to you is brand new to them. And so just reading and talking and explaining everything that you're doing is so important. When you have a really tiny kiddo.

S3: And , you know , maybe for slightly older kids , what about when a kid is just really not into reading that much ? I imagine one goal that you have is is to make it more fun , like not feel like homework , right ? Yes.

S2: And what we always tell families is to first pick a book that you think the kid is going to enjoy. So if they don't like something , don't pick a book about that. If they're old enough to help pick out a book , definitely go with them to the library or the bookstore , or look on our website. We have a book list of over 400 books , and you can look at it together to pick something out that looks exciting to them. For those older kiddos , don't discount things like comic books or graphic novels. That's such a great introduction to longer form books. Some of the classic books that we all read as kids are now in graphic novel form , so it makes them really interesting to read and look at. And you also , as a parent , want to model the behavior. And so if you're saying something like. Oh , I hate reading. Then your kid is going to pick up on that. Even if you don't love reading , that's totally fine. But find something that you enjoy to read. Reading a magazine totally counts as reading. Looking through your cookbooks to figure out what you want to cook for dinner for the week counts as reading , so find something and just pick up a book with your kid and read together.

S3: One thing that I struggle with , again , I'm a parent as well , is oftentimes I'm reading things on my phone , but it still gives that signal that I'm just online. Or , you know , it may not get the message across to my children that I am reading.

S2: Yeah. You know , I'm thinking about I do the same thing reading news articles online. Right ? I subscribe to a bunch of sub stacks and reading through those , and it really just looks like I'm scrolling my phone when I am reading. I personally am a still a physical book person , so I do have a stack of books next to my bed. You know , do as I say , not as I do. I should really move some of those downstairs and reading them a little bit more instead of right before bed. But , you know , between activities with my kids , too , it's it's hard. It's really hard. Everything is so digital these days. But as much as you can show that you're reading , even sometimes my kids with my husband in particular , who does a little bit more reading books on his phone or their grandparents , they will read out loud from the phone with them so that the kids see that they're not playing a game , that they're reading something. And so that's kind of a fun way that you could incorporate those e-book type. Oh , that's a great model. Yeah.

S3: Like kind of active reading including them in that. Yeah.

S2: Yeah. You can get a lot of kids books as ebooks. You know , if you have a Kindle or a similar e-book reader , you can read that with them on the on the tablets with them as well.

S3: But I agree with you. There's still nothing like having that that hardbound book by your side , opening it up. It just feels different than an e-book for me even today.

S2: Yeah , that nice like crack of the spine. It's there's something satisfying about it. Absolutely.

S3: Absolutely.

S2: So I'm really fortunate that I have some of those books on our bookshelves , like Wink and Blinkin and Nod. I know it's still probably in some poem books out there , but I have a board book version of it. I love reading that to my almost two year old. Um , at bedtime , we've started reading the Harry Potter series with our kids. I love the Wizard of Oz books , and so reading those and bringing those memories back and revisiting a book that I loved as a kid has been really satisfying , because it just brings you back to those same feelings you had as a kid learning to read and discovering new worlds. So that's been really fun for me.

S3: Yeah , you're taking me back to my love of , uh , Doctor Seuss , uh , product of San Diego. Yes. Um , one of my favorites of his that I read to my kids was called Mr. Brown. Can you , can you ? It's so great. It's so good , I love it. Yeah.

S2: And we find our our families , our military families pick a lot of Doctor Seuss books. As an organization , we've been lucky to partner with the Seuss Foundation a few times , and it's just a great resource that is there in San Diego because it's so ingrained in the community since he lived there , I think I finally had to put it away , but I had a copy of Green Eggs and Ham that was mine as a kid , and it was so well worn that it was just falling apart. So you can tell how many times that was read by me. And then now my kids know.

S3: There's something beautiful about a book that's just so worn in. You can just feel , you know , how much the reader has like , loved it and cherished it. Yeah.

S1: That was Midday Edition's Andrew Brackin speaking with Jessica Hall from United Through Reading. Their program provides military families with ways to record stories for their children. Coming up , we'll tell you about a librarian who brings reading right to your children.

S4: If you are enjoying yourself , the audience will be enjoying the storytime as well. That is why you meet so many children's librarians who are passionate about what they do.

S1: We'll tell you about librarian on the go when we return. You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. You just heard why reading aloud to your kids is so important , but storytimes at the library are another way to get kids excited about books. Local librarian cardiogram creates programs around just that. She founded librarian on the go , which provides ala carte librarian services across San Diego County. Graham sat down with Midday Edition's Andrew Bracken , who asked about how librarian on the go program got started. Take a listen.

S4: It got started when libraries were closed for programs during Covid , and I began doing pop up storytimes in local parks , and librarian on the go on Instagram developed a little following.

S3: So this is the first time , you know , kind of talked about this sort of a la carte librarian service.

S4: I had a relationship with the Museum of Contemporary Art , and they offered to contract me to continue doing storytime on their previous play day , which is a day the museum is free for the public once a month. And somebody else contacted me. City Ballet of San Diego reached out. Where'd you go ? We miss you. And you know now a librarian on the go as their outreach librarian. As a matter of fact , City Ballet of San Diego is going to bring 28 library branches at San Diego Public Library , a book and a ballerina program. So there'll be a read aloud ballerina will talk about her job and teach dance steps. And it's been pretty cool.

S3: You know , you mentioned a book in A ballerina. I was going to ask you about that. Could you tell us more about that program , where it's going to be , how people can find out about it ? Absolutely.

S4: So a book and a ballerina is where there will be a read aloud. A ballerina will talk about her job and teach dance steps. It's going to be at 28 library branches in the San Diego Public Library system. The first program is on March 28th at the Point Loma branch. And to see where the other programs will be , you can visit San Diego Library Market. Com or follow librarian on the go on Instagram.

S3: And these programs are free for the public. Absolutely.

S4: Absolutely.

S3: Oh that's great. So before you were librarian I understand you worked as a reporter. So talk about that transition. What inspired you to kind of take this route into books and to libraries ? Yes.

S4: Well , there's a lot in common between journalism and librarianship , right ? We believe everyone has a story. We believe there's a story for everyone. And we believe in the freedom of speech , access to information. So when I had my own kids , I started taking them to storytime at the public library and my mind was blown. We would hang out at the storytime. There would be a craft. Often after I would socialize with other moms. Sometimes the library would even give us , you know , free things to take home. And I couldn't believe this was available. So before I knew it , I was volunteering in the public library , and I earned my master's in Library and Information science.

S3: Recently , we've heard a lot about some of these efforts at , you know , book banning and controversies centered on libraries , some of them in San Diego County.

S4: It's an example sometimes of how people can come together during hard times.

S3: You know , earlier we were talking about some books and you mentioned Where the Wild Things Are , which is like a favorite of of both of ours. One thing that jumped out is , you know , you made the point. You know , book banning is nothing new , of course. And that actually even that book , which is just a classic , anyone with kids probably has that in their library or has checked it out from the library. Right. Tell us about a little bit more about where the Wild Things Are. And because I didn't know anything about that.

S4: It's by Maurice Sendak. And it was banned in 1968 , I believe , when it came out for being psychologically damaging to children. And , you know , how could someone send their child to to bed without their supper ? I like using that book as an example , because it's a book that so many people really enjoy , and it is an example of how there is an aversion to change all too often , but it can be overcome. And the fact that so many families like that book now shows that we have a lot in common.


S4: In an outreach literacy program called Every Child Ready to Read and the five pillars of that are reading , singing , writing , talking , and playing. So there is a method to the madness. There is a reason why your children's librarian is singing in between the the readings , and why they might be running their finger along the lines of text in the picture book while they're reading , and why there's toys at the library for kids to play with , and why librarians are asking critical thinking questions before , during , and after the story. So what we want you all to know is that parents are the child's first teacher , and early literacy is where it's at. It's setting up your child's for success in life and in school.


S4: On Sunday I was doing a storytime and it was at the end somebody asked if we could sing a song about space because one of the books that we read involved a child who wanted to grow up to be an astronaut. So we sang zoom , zoom , zoom , you're going to the moon. It's a song that sing in storytime at the library. Plenty. And to see the kids and the parents jumping up and down when it was time to blast off during the song was so fun. And , you know , at the end they all come up to you and they have the hugest smile on their face.

S3: That's really beautiful. Earlier in the show , we spoke with Jessica Hall about reading , and she talked about ways , you know , she uses to get kids to capture this love of reading. I'm curious what elements you feel are important to instill that love of reading , because it's not just about teaching a kid to read. It's really , you know , and as a parent , I , you know , share this. It's trying to capture that passion and joy of reading.

S4: You have to enjoy what you're doing. And if you are enjoying yourself , the audience will be enjoying the storytime as well. So that is why you meet so many children's librarians who are passionate about what they do. And it's important for them to be that way , because it's what's going to get kids excited about reading , too , and families excited about bringing their kids to storytimes.

S3: And I'm really curious , as a librarian for storytime , what goes into picking a book or a theme for it ? It's almost like you're the emcee or like a DJ picking , you know , records for a party , but books for kids.

S4: I have done multiple A through Z storytime series , so every week at Preschool Storytime , we'll focus on a different letter of the alphabet. Starting with the letter A , we'll get to sound out the letter of the alphabet together. At the beginning , we'll get to brainstorm words that start with that letter. We'll get to enjoy books that have that have a title that starts with that letter , songs that go with the theme , maybe a craft that that goes with the with the letter. I'm thinking about a right now. We made an alligator purse for that one , so that was great. 26 Built-In Themes. Sometimes if it's a storytime that I'm doing , say , for City Ballet , the book will be about a ballet or we or I organized storytime for them. They had a Peter and the Wolf ballet , so I read Peter and the Wolf picture book.


S4: And one of my favorite tips from tipster is that the serotonin released when you're cuddling with your child during storytime will make them feel supported and will make them better able to learn in that moment.

S3: So let's get into some recommendations. You brought a couple of books with you here.

S4: The Very Hungry Caterpillar is great , actually. Talking about the Very Hungry Caterpillar. You might remember that he builds a small house called a cocoon and he becomes a butterfly. Don't butterflies come from the chrysalis ? It is because Eric Carle's father used to tell him. Eric , come out of your cocoon. So this is a lollipop eating caterpillar. And Eric Carle took editorial license over , over that part of the story as far as the house around him. And I appreciate the example of poetry over science in this aspect.

S3: Oh , that's a nice. Yeah.

S4: Yeah. Another story that I like to read out loud is the story of Ferdinand by Monroe Leaf. It's about a bull , and he doesn't want to be charging with other bulls. He wants to sit around and , you know , smell the flowers. It's a story about being yourself despite pressure.

S3: Both of those , I think are in my home right now , today , actually. Thank you. So aside from being National Reading Month , March is also Women's History Month.

S4: The life of librarian and storyteller Pura Belpre is great. She was the first Latina to work at New York Public Library as a librarian. The books by Annika Waldemar Denise. If you haven't read the picture book The Tree Lady , you should , because it's about Kate Sessions , the mother of Balboa Park.

S3: Oh , wow. Yeah. And you also do a lot of bilingual storytimes.

S4: That one's great to read in October , around the day of the dead time , because the monarch butterfly is symbolic around that period , too. I like to read even The Very Hungry Caterpillar in Spanish is fun. One of my favorite books is called Alma and How She Got Her Name , and it's by Juana martinez Neil. And it's about a girl who has a very long name , and she's not so sure how she feels about it , but her father explains to her that she's named after all these incredible people in her family , and by the end , she does like her name , especially because alma is unique just to her so she can write her own story.


S4: There's someone there who's gone through what you're going through who can relate to you. You see a character that reminds you of yourself in a story , doing something amazing. That means you can do something amazing too. Or if the character is going through a hard time , maybe you'll you'll have gone through a hard time like that and you'll be able to come through it as well.

S3: So you brought a lot of books with you.

S4: It's great for middle grade , and it is about a girl with cerebral palsy. She is so incredibly smart and so incredibly funny , but she can't communicate by talking the way that you , you and I do. So she gets frustrated and but by the end of the story , she has , you know , won the hearts of everyone around her. I really liked The Little Prince. That's a classic , too. It's a great family read aloud. It shows that what is really important can only be seen with the heart. Another book that I recommend for families is called The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho , and it's about going on a treasure hunt and following your heart.

S3: Libraries obviously are about books , but they're about a lot more than just books. They're also community spaces. They provide , you know , lots of different events and different ways for the community to come together. I'm just curious how you think about libraries or if that's something you think about , you know , when doing these storytimes.

S4: Yeah , I think everyone should be a public library card holder. There is something at the public library for you , and if you don't think so , give me a call and I'll tell you why. You don't just go and check out books there. You check out your passions. You check out your interests , even those you didn't even know you have yet. There's a state park pass you can check out. You can check out a hiking kit. You can check out magazines , newspapers , online as well. You can connect to your community there , and I just can't say enough about it.


S4: There are no limits. Just like anything can happen in the public library. Anything can happen with librarian on the go. I hope to show that librarianship is a relevant and dynamic career. I want more kids to want to be librarians when they grow up. And I want librarian on the go to attract the most non-traditional library users. People in the libraries , they're already there , but more people need to go.

S1: That was Midday Edition producer Andrew Bracken speaking with cardiogram from librarian on the go.

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Paige Dillard is a librarian at the San Diego County Lakeside branch. She reads to children, Thursday, during the Wiggles and Giggles storytime, Lakeside, Calif., June 8, 2023.
M.G. Perez
Paige Dillard is a librarian at the San Diego County Lakeside branch. She reads to children, Thursday, during the Wiggles and Giggles storytime, Lakeside, Calif., June 8, 2023.

In honor of March being National Reading Month, KPBS Midday Edition listened to a conversation with Jessica Hall from United Through Reading, an organization that provides opportunities for military members to read to their kids, no matter where they are.

Also, Katia Graham sat down with KPBS to talk about why story time is so important for kids. She runs Librarian on the Go, which provides librarian services across San Diego County. Katia also tells us about her upcoming program “A Book and a Ballerina" coming to San Diego's libraries this spring.