For Ashlei Wheeler, Teen Services specialist at the Waldo Branch, reading to children is an interactive experience. "It's so much fun to see them get into it and want to know what happens next," Wheeler says.
"They notice things differently than adults do. They notice things that get them psyched, and that gets me psyched, too."
"I like the creativity they bring to it," Wheeler adds.
Unfortunately, many children in the Kansas City Public Library's service area don't get to have this kind of creative, interactive reading experience on a regular basis.
According to a 2009 Jumpstart report, the average child growing up in a low-income family has only been exposed to 25 hours of one-on-one reading. (Compare that with 1,000-1,700 hours in middle-class homes.)
Early childhood literacy is a key indicator of future academic success.
According to the Jumpstart report, 37 percent of children arrive in kindergarten lacking the skills necessary for lifetime learning. If they haven't developed them by third grade, there's a good chance they never will.
If kids start behind, they'll stay behind.
The Kansas City Public Library recognizes the urgent need for early literacy in the community. That's why, as part of the Building a Community of Readers Family Literacy Project, the Library is launching the Reading Partners program.
Beginning in November 2011, Reading Partners aims to pair children through 3rd grade with older companions who can devote time to reading with them one-on-one.
The partner could be a parent, grandparent, older sibling, or family friend.
"I have a brother who is nine years older than me," says Director of Children's Services Helma Hawkins. "He read to me as I was growing up, and I remember it as a very special time in my life as a reader."
Unlike Family Read Aloud Month, a family-focused program that runs through the end of November 2011 and is also a Building a Community of Readers program, Reading Partners focuses on reading to one child at a time.
"Reading one-on-one with younger kids is dialogic," Hawkins explains. "The intention is not just to read the words in the book, but to engage, ask questions, comment on pictures, and let the child ask questions."
"We want to get children thinking about the process of how a story unfolds," Hawkins says.
Reading Partners will also help children build their home libraries.
According to the Jumpstart report, 61 percent of low-income families do not own any books that are age appropriate for their kids.
For every 20 books completed through Reading Partners, a reading log can be turned in for a free children's book from the Library. The reading logs are available now at all Library locations.
Reading Partners is a year-round program with no ending date. And much like the Building a Community of Readers initiative itself, Reading Partners is an ongoing story.