Help your child become a thriving reader

In the midst of a busy day at the Beacon Hill Library's information desk, I picked up the phone expecting to field a reference query from the public. Instead, it was my husband with a somber voice.

He told me our good friend had succumbed to the brain tumor that had eaten away his life at age 63. Naturally stunned, I sat there a minute to collect myself until I felt a small tap at my shoulder.

Standing there was a little girl who I've known since her mother brought her to the library as a baby. She gave me a quick hug and off she went to find some books. At that moment, it felt like the comforting touch of an angel.

"Lucky," I thought to myself. "Lucky I'm a children's librarian in this neighborhood full of good people."

Working at the Beacon Hill Library for 15 years I've seen a generation of children grow up before my eyes. Many have graduated at the top of their class, laden with scholarships and studying at institutions of higher learning or having moved on to promising careers. Some are giving of themselves in military service in far off bases throughout the world. Others serve local or global concerns through volunteer efforts.

The preschoolers who have come to story time week after week have excelled as elementary school students. They call cheery hellos to me as I visit their classrooms for various library promotions. These are the children and teens that have reveled in what the library has to offer. Their families have provided good foundations for learning to read.

Yet, concern consumes me for the many children who are not learning to read. A national family literacy consortium called The Children of the Code has cited a recent study showing 30-40 percent of children in the United States are not reading to their capacity.

Reading is a decoding of letters and sounds. Around age 5 the brain's challenge is to master the coordination of complicated computations involving writing and sound. During this time children make the relationship between the 26 letters of the English alphabet and its more than 50 sounds.

A child's readiness factor is related to the brain's architecture needing to be developed for reading. Study after study shows that there is a strong correlation between the educational attainment of the mother and a child's readiness to read. All the research is pointing toward the fact that the environment of the oral and written language in the home is crucial.

This means the simple act of reading is one of the most important things parents can do for their children. Language acquisition is the main point.

"When did you start talking to your child? Did you wait until she was 18 months old?" asks Read-Aloud advocate Jim Trelease. "Of course not. You started to talk to her on the day she was born. If your child is old enough to talk to, the child is old enough to read to."

Your library knows this.

We have a great collection of books and media in many languages that appeal to babies on up. There are story time programs for preschoolers, and we are great advocates for reading aloud in the home, starting at birth onward to grade 12.

Seattle's libraries produce myriad booklists for all grade levels and interests. We promote fun reading and learning activities through the children's page on The Seattle Public Library's web site (

Programs that promote reading, writing and learning take place year round. The librarians will drop whatever they're doing to recommend a great book or two to interested young patrons and parents. We are the free source for reading enrichment in the city.

It's a disturbing statistic that 30-40 percent of our children are not reading well.

Introducing children to their branch library is a great first step for families. Come in, get a library card for every member of the family, and get to know your local librarians and library staff. We are eager to suggest a good book, show off our resources and help anyone learn to read.

Diane Cowles is the children's librarian at the Beacon Hill Library, 2821 Beacon Ave. S. She may be reached through[[In-content Ad]]