Personal Journey to Reach Out & Read
in any field occurs in steps, one after another, one building
on the other. Each new insight builds and expands on earlier breakthroughs.
This is certainly true in the field of literacy. If you were to
ask ten educators who influenced their thinking, it is likely
that you would come up with ten different lists. This is because
each of us comes from a unique set of experiences and point of
view, which insures that the voices that move, inspire and motivate
us will vary. To know who has moved you is important, but of equal
importance is to know why and how.
Here is my list.
A New Zealander, Dorothy Butler wrote Babies Need Books.
When I read this book in the late 1980s it helped me understand
that to create a life-long reader, one must experience the sheer
joy of being held snugly on a lap while helping to turn the pages
of a book. It answered key questions like, how do we go about
introducing books to children? Which books should we share? When
should we begin?
In 1982, Jim Trelease, a sports writer for the Springfield Daily
News in Springfield, Massachusetts wrote the Read-Aloud Handbook.
One town over from where we were living, I met him at a book signing.
This book became a best seller because it made so much sense.
It set a goal of reading aloud to a child at least fifteen minutes
a day by parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles all across America
and was a wonderful resource for helping parents choose appropriate
read aloud books. It also subtly made the point that literacy
required a partnership that spanned the divide between school
Ernest Boyer, Commission on Reading, The National Institute of
In 1991, Ernest Boyer of the Carnegie Foundation produced a landmark
paper called Ready To Learn. His research explored the
creation of environments that would best support early learning.
The role of the individual, the family, the community and society
were flushed out. Structural institutions like community health
clinics were envisioned for the first time as potential early
learning sites for literacy and in Philadelphia, I had the opportunity
to help create one of these innovative sites.
Barry Zuckerman, M.D, Robert Needlman, M.D. and Perri Klass, M.D.
While in Philadelphia at The Ready To Learn Program at Woman and
Children’s Health Services, I read a paper by Dr. Robert Needlman.
He had been working with Dr. Barry Zuckerman at Boston City Hospital.
The research showed that parents were four times more likely to
read aloud to their children, age 6 months to 5 years, if their
pediatricians had advocated reading aloud as part of the well-child
check-up. A prescription to read was not only a unique and effective
concept, but validated what most educators had for many years
appreciated, that literacy fundamentally impacts on human potential,
health and self-esteem. Doctors Zuckerman and Needlman were soon
after joined by Doctor Perri Klass and Reach Out and Read was
Vera B. Williams
Over the years with our four children, I have collected a wide
range of books that were favorites of theirs and mine, and remain
a source of comfort and enjoyment to all of us now as adults.
With our first grandchild, Anabella, on the scene, I can see my
children carrying on the reading behaviors I modeled for them
many years ago. One book that we especially treasure is Vera B.
Williams, A Chair For My Mother. Last year, Reach Out and
Read of Greater New York had the privilege of hearing Vera speak
at our annual fund raising event. Looking out on the audience
of educators, doctors, and parents, young and old she said, “Remember,
if it weren’t for adults reading books to children, our books
would be silent.”#
Magee is the Executive Director of Reach Out and Read of Greater
New York. She is the author of Raising a Happy, Confident
Successful Child, Adams Media.
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