rainbow books

Reading to young children makes lasting impact

Babies with books

by Christy Anderson
It makes sense: the more a child reads, the better a child gets at reading. But studies are showing that being read to is just as critical to a child’s growing literacy and language development, even in very young children, including infants and toddlers.

Even Children Who Can’t See the Book Learn to Read

Studies conducted this year on children’s brains while they were being read to showed similar brain activity as the activity shown when they read to themselves. This would suggest that children who have more practice hearing and imagining stories in their heads may develop skills that will help them make images and stories out of words they learn to read later on.

In other words, parents who start reading books to their children very early will increase their child’s success in reading when they get older.

Reading Picture Books are Key to Future Reading Success

This is even true when parents “read” picture books to their children. In this activity, children build their language skills by associating their parents’ vocabulary with the pictures they see. The new context each book brings to the parent-child interaction introduces more words to the child than if they hadn’t read the book together. As a result, they learn to read faster.

These new studies support Bookspring’s established efforts to reach young children with books. Through our Early Childhood Program, we make sure that professionals have books on hand to read to very young children at preschools, childcare centers, and similar partner agencies. We’re making a difference to thousands of children annually with these programs.

We’re also part of a national effort to support pediatricians in promoting literacy. Through our Clinics and Health Program, we give new books to thousands of children annually with the help of local pediatricians who also counsel parents about the importance of reading aloud to children as early as six months old.

Science continues to confirm that Bookspring’s efforts will produce reading success in Austin’s children and create a better future for Austin.

Don’t Stop Reading to Older Children

woman reading to many children 720x460

by Sophia Toprac

An article recently published by the New York Times that discusses recent studies that reveal the benefits of reading aloud to your child. The article points to studies done across the nation that found that the three main traits that all the most voracious young readers seems to share are restricted online access, time for independent reading in school, and parents who regularly read aloud to them.

Only a couple years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced that it would begin recommending that every parent read to their child starting at birth. The first three years of a baby’s life are crucial in terms of brain development, and reading aloud to your baby will increase their vocabulary and improve their language and cognitive skills. (Plus, it can be a nice break from baby-talk for the parents.)

However, parents should not stop there. Reading aloud to your child is equally important throughout elementary school, as it creates a positive association with books that will stick with your child for the rest of their life. One of the studies discussed in the article found a strong link between children who read more heavily and children whose parents read aloud to them throughout elementary school. And children who fall behind on reading in the first couple years of elementary school have to struggle to achieve even average levels of reading skill.

This is especially dangerous for lower-income children, who hear an average of 30 million words fewer than their more well-off counterparts by age 4, and can identify 30% less of the letter names.

The Multifaceted Permanence of Books

pile of books 720x460

by Emily Ball Cicchini

My home was one of the many hit by the Texas Memorial Day floods of 2015. We are only now getting everything back in order, thanks to many helpful friends and services, particularly two burly men from Stanley Steamer and two helpful home inspectors from FEMA. The damage wasn’t major, but it was a shock that made me realize how lucky I am and how fragile and special life can be.

We were playing monopoly in the dining room during the Monday afternoon storm, when I walked back to the living room to get something, and noticed that my feet were leaving dark footprints on the carpet. It took us a short while to figure out that the water was coming in from underneath. By the time we fully understood what was happening, the carpet was like a waterbed, dry on the surface but jiggling like Jello to the touch.

We immediately stopped what we were doing and fled into all the affected rooms, grabbing anything off the floor that we could pick up and moving it to the unaffected part of the house. There were boxes of Christmas cards behind my desk from years past, and taxes from 2009 that I had recently pulled out to check on some old home repair project. But the thing that made me jump the most and fastest was my great-grandmother’s Bible.

Antique Bible Print 1880

Image from my great grandmother’s Bible

Now, there aren’t many greater books more permanent and important than the Bible. But for me, it wasn’t only the Word that was important. It was the newspaper announcements of my great-grandmother’s wedding tucked in the pages. And, perhaps even more, the handwritten letter from a distant relative from 1864, recounting his experiences fighting and being wounded in the Civil War.

The book itself is falling apart. Its binding split, and the tiny holes of literal bookworms, small and perfectly round, threaten gently to contaminate all my other books. So I keep it in a great big plastic bag, both to keep what’s outside out and what’s inside in.

But it, too, had ended up on floor that day, and the thought of water working its way inside that bag made me move faster than a child hunting for colored eggs on Easter Sunday.

The Bible and its contents were fine, and safely tucked away on a top shelf in a dry room. In fact, almost all of my books were fine.  Unlike my old taxes and carpet and drywall.

But it did get me to thinking about the amazing permanence of books, and how valuable that is to me, and to all of us as a community, as a culture.

Since coming to BookSpring a few months ago, I have been awed by the sheer volume of books coming in and out of our humble portables, 144,000 this past year, being distributed all across Central Texas to deserving children who haven’t had the same luck with books that I have. I have always been the kind of person who gave away books freely…because books have always somehow found their way to me. Like my great-grandmother’s Bible.  I don’t know who or what I’d be without books.

What I’m struck with is that it’s not only the books themselves that we’re giving away. It’s all the different experiences associated with that book. The story, if it’s a good one, stays in the mind for days, or weeks, or even a lifetime.

And, probably most importantly, it is a connection to the person giving the book, and all the persons who had it before you, including the author/creator.

So, it took a flood and the threat of losing a physical book to remind me that books are not just physical: they are cultural, psychological, personal, and yes, even spiritual.

So, today, I hope you can both give and receive a book.  We need this daily practice of sharing stories to keep all our spirits alive and free.

A Lifetime Passion for Literacy

There is something totally inspiring about a person who dedicates their life to a mission that is impossible to complete. A mission impossible, if you will.

Lynda Johnson Robb is one of these people. Speaking at the BookSpring Storybook Heroes Luncheon on May 6, 2015, she recounted how her interest in helping children love to read was perhaps the thing she was most proud of in her life. That is, perhaps, with the exception of her children, represented on this occasion by her daughter, Austin lawyer Catherine Robb.

In a warm and personal conversation at the Radisson Town Lake, the mother and daughter team recounted the importance of reading aloud with children: “The love of reading is born in the laps of those who love,” said Lynda Robb, driving home the ability of reading aloud with children to increase comprehension and strengthen the social bonds of family that are so important for optimal human growth.

Westing_coverLynda Robb spoke of being the first volunteer for Reading is Fundamental, and later board president, and Catherine described how her mother would never miss a chance to grab anyone who would listen to talk about the importance of reading aloud to children. They spoke about a family favorite called The Westing Game, a 1979 Newberry Medal winner by Ellen Raskin in which sixteen potential heirs try to unravel the secret behind a paper magnet’s death. They relished reliving the memory of how much that particular book meant to them.

One particular instance came to mind. While Mrs. Robb was reading the chapter book at night to her daughters, one of them stole away with the book to keep reading ahead late at night. When she was discovered, at first Mrs. Robb was upset-she wanted everyone to stay within the story together! But it was a tribute to the author that the book was so compelling, and to Mrs. Robb herself that the child’s desire was so strong to keep knowing that she would break the family pattern to find out what came next.

Ultimately, the gift of reading is a gift of choice and freedom, even when it might not be exactly what a parent expects or wishes for their child, Mrs. Robb explained. Tastes change; books that were once popular fade, and new authors bring new ideas for new generations of children. In the end, what the child wants to read and be might be something better that the parent could ever dream of. And that’s the hope for the future that reading brings to us all.
Wayne & Mrs. RobbAfter the event, Mrs. Robb visited the BookSpring offices with our long-time volunteer, Wayne Glander. Mrs. Robb expressed support for the creative way that BookSpring is carrying on the work of both Reading is Fundamental and Reach Out and Read, as we search for new ways to advocate for literacy with children who don’t have access to books or the family traditions of reading aloud to each other.

There were other local heroes celebrated at the event as well; Michele Walker-Moak, our former board president and community relations lead for Applied Materials; The Junior League of Austin for their dedicated volunteer support, and Drs. Clift Price and Karen Hayward for bringing Reach Out and Read, which brings books to children and families through their doctors. All of these people demonstrate a lifetime of passion for literacy.

May we all be so inspired to read to the children in our lives, and pass this gift on to others through whatever means we have available: time, money, or expertise. We may not be able to stop poverty at its roots, but we can provide the hope that through reading, individual children and their families can overcome social limitations through increased imagination, information, and deeper connections to the people and things around them.

That’s what launching children into a world a reading is all about. It’s a worthy impossible mission, where progress is made child-by-child, through personal, caring relationships, great stories shared, and a life well-lived.

Learning to Say “Pooh-Pooh”

bedtime reading with mom 720x460

Submitted by: Hannah and her amazing mom

I started reading Madeline to my daughter Hannah when she was tiny, around 2 months old.  We’d read it two to three times a week before bedtime until she was at least 2-and-a-half, and still read it very frequently. She learned so much from the book.

Her first deliberate “happy” and “sad” faces were when we “smiled at the good and frowned at the bad and sometimes they were very sad.” She learned about being brave and independent from Madeline saying “pooh-pooh” to the tiger in the zoo. And of course, she has now mapped out an itinerary for the trip to Paris she is dying to take.

Cover of Madeline book

But the most meaningful thing we took away from the book was eliminating the fear of hospitals, which was very important last spring and summer when my husband, Andrew, was so sick. He was hospitalized three times for serious issues before he died; each time, while he was quite sick, we knew he was coming home and it was a great comfort to be able to tell Hannah that Daddy was in the hospital “just like Madeline.” The scar on his head from his brain surgery was “just like Madeline’s!” and she asked him a number of times whether he got a lot of candy and toys when he was there.


The book really took the fear out of what could have been a very confusing time and allowed us to contextualize a serious situation in safe language she could understand.

We still read Madeline a lot — I call it the guidebook. She is all over me to go to Paris, which is totally not happening for several years!

Name: Hannah and mom
Age: 4 years old
Hometown: New York, NY


This post was originally submitted for the 2014 RED Day (renew, energize, donate) community service project of Keller Williams Realty International. BookSpring is pleased to be partnering again with Keller Williams for RED Day, May 14th, 2015.

Here’s how you can help: VOLUNTEER, DONATE, and engage through FACEBOOK AND TWITTER!

Keller Williams logo