Library’s 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten a big hit

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Fifteen children have added a new piece of apparel to their wardrobe by spending more time at the Canton Public Library. Each child has a new t-shirt with the words “I Read 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten.”

Twins George and Josephine Gresko

Twins George and Josephine Gresko are 2 of the 15 children who have reached the 1,000-book milestone.

The words are both the name of a nationwide program that encourages families to read with their young children as well as a goal that the 15 children have reached, with dozens of local youngsters close on their heels. The youngest child to complete the program is 18 months old. Her older sister also has a t-shirt. Their mother read 1,000 different books to each girl, because of their age difference.

Children’s librarian Ann Woodman read an article in the School Library Journal a few years ago about a library that was running the 1,000 Books program. Children can read a book on their own, their parents can read it to them, or they can listen to the book, which can be in any language. Children can read the same book more than once. Woodman loved the idea, but didn’t like the artwork that the other library used. She wanted to use the illustrations of local author Jamie Harper.

“She did an awesome flamingo book set at Blue Hills,” Woodman said. “I like flamingos anyway.”

Deb Sundin was working at the library at that time and got in touch with Harper. Harper’s character Miss Mingo was added to stickers, t-shirts and canvas bags, thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the Canton Public Library. Woodman placed several pink flamingos along the top of the first set of bookshelves in the Junior Room and held a kickoff event for 1,000 Books in October 2014. Harper was the guest of honor, reading and signing her books for the 40 families in attendance.

When a family registers for the program, Woodman gives them a sheet of paper to keep track of how many books they have read with their child. The sheet has 50 circles, which the families or children fill in every time a book is completed. Woodman said that some families place stickers in the circles, while others color them in or simply cross them off. When the 50 circles are filled, the family brings the sheet back to the library. Woodman places a sticker of a flamingo in the upper right hand corner and returns it to the family along with a new log. One parent is keeping each 50-book log in a manila envelope while another is saving them in a three-ring binder complete with a list of every title the child has read.

Each log has suggestions for parents. The program encourages them to build a bond with their child through reading, to read with expression, to listen to books with their children, to let their children see them reading their own books, and to read a wordless book with their child.

“A lot of parents are intimidated by a wordless book,” Woodman said. “Have your child tell the story.”

When children read 250 books, they receive a large canvas bag that reads, “I Read 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten Canton Public Library.” Woodman was very astute in designating the bag as the first gift. “I want them advertising,” she said with a laugh.

When they reach the 500-book level, they choose a new book from several titles, including some of Harper’s. When they have read 1,000 books, they receive a t-shirt with their claim to fame written on it. Woodman would love to see an entire kindergarten class wear the same t-shirt on their first day of class. As they reach each level, their photo is taken and placed on a bulletin board in the room that the staff uses for story time. The photos are also emailed to the parents.

The original 40 families have grown to nearly 180, in part due to the efforts of the Junior Room’s senior assistant, Lori Brooks. Woodman said that every time a family checks out books, Brooks asks them if they have heard about the 1,000 Books program. Some of the participants are children of people who work in Canton, but don’t live in the town.

“We don’t care,” Woodman said. “They’re our future doctors and police officers. We want them to be literate.”

Woodman has noticed that when a family comes to the library to looks for books, the search has become more child-driven. “They’ll go over and find more books,” she said. “Because they’ve been read to, they know what they like. It’s really, really good.”

Woodman is thrilled with the 1,000 Books program. “It emphasizes what we know,” she said. “Children being read to and how important it is. It’s so non-judgmental. It’s at your own speed. If you start them young, you’ll all finish.”

Story time is a drop-in program held at the library Tuesday and Friday mornings in the Junior Room at 10:30. Six books, which count toward the 1,000 Books program, are read, and there are a flannel board and music activities. For more information on 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, go to library.canton.ma.us/248/1000-books-before-kindergarten.

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