By Pam Leo

March is Read Across America month. Read Across America Day (March 2) is the biggest reading celebration in the country! Ironically and sadly, it is also the month that our beloved Raising Readers early literacy program ends. Maine’s children have been richly blessed by the Libra Foundation and we owe them our deepest gratitude for the 23 years of early literacy equity they provided for ALL Maine’s children from birth through age 5. Their iconic “baby-sitting-on-the-rainbow-stack-of-books” logo on all of their books and bags will forever represent early literacy to me.

“Children fall in love with books because of the memories created when they snuggle up and read with someone they love.”

Raising Readers

The happy news is that we have not one, but two, wonderful new early literacy programs in the process of coming on board in Maine, which is certainly something to celebrate. Let us welcome Dolly Parton Imagination Library and Reach Out and Read. However, to my current knowledge, the vital books-at-the-birth part of the Raising Readers program will not be part of either of the new early literacy programs. Those books at birth set families on the road to literacy “right from the very start.” They were also a nonverbal message to all new parents. That message was, “Read to your baby.”

I could not accept that there would be no new books for parents of new babies, and no message of the importance of reading to babies. So, at the 11th hour, I applied for a grant. I’m excited to announce that, once again, the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation is supporting early literacy in Maine by funding Book Fairy Pantry Project’s “New Books for New Babies” project so that we can continue to give out free copies of Please Read To Me to new parents enrolled in the WIC program statewide.

As thrilled as I am that we can continue to do this, only about 50% of babies born in Maine receive services from the WIC program. I knew I needed to do something more to help get books and the read-to-your-baby message to the other 50%.

That “something more” is going to be a free, prenatal “Read-Aloud Parenting Story Hour” to introduce expectant parents to the joys and benefits of making reading aloud to their new baby one of the primary ways they bond with their child. The curriculum for this new event will soon be available (TBA) as a free download, from the forthcoming Read-Aloud Parenting website to any doula, childbirth educator, or librarian willing to offer the event for free to expectant parents.

I will be offering the first free pilot “Read-Aloud Parenting Story Hour” event to expectant parents, doulas, childbirth educators, and librarians  on March 9th at the Treetop room, above Birth Roots, to introduce and celebrate a new way for parents to hear the message of the importance of reading aloud to their babies,  “right from the very start.”  Preregistration required by email at bookfairypantryproject@gmail.com

Why am I so passionate about new parents having books to read to their new babies? Because the greatest need of every child is to be securely bonded to at least one adult who has “an irrational commitment to their well-being.” Reading aloud is the easiest, most joyful way I know to build a child’s foundation for one day learning to read while simultaneously building the strong parent-child bond every child needs to thrive.

Babies are hardwired for connection and they do not thrive without it. That connection is what turns human babies into human beings. Connection is a biological human need. Infants and toddlers are like rechargeable batteries and they can only get a recharge from their primary adult attachments. The younger the child, the more often they need a recharge of connecting with their primary caregivers. Older children can go longer between connecting times, but not too long. Since children don’t always have the language to tell us that connection is what they need, they will often communicate that need by acting it out…thus “acting out” behavior.

One of the greatest challenges for parents today, with everyone going in different directions and everyone on their screens, is making time, every day, to spend “connection” time with each of their children. What is connection time? In my book Connection Parenting (©2005); connection time, also known as “special time” is defined as one one-on-one time, spent with a child, giving our full attention to the child with no distractions or interruptions. Reading to your baby or child gives them, not only all the brain-building literacy benefits of reading to them, but every story strengthens that vital parent-child connection. When parents have books to read to their children, they hold the key to creating that vital, strong parent-child bond every child needs. Let’s all give new books to new babies. “Every time you read to me our bond grows a little stronger. Your reading feels like love to me, and I always want it longer. Read to me? Please?” Excerpt, Please Read To Me, By Pam Leo.

Pam Leo, is a family literacy activist, the author of Connection Parenting, and a new book, Please Read To Me. Her enduring love of children's books, her passion for literacy, and her commitment to empowering parents, are combined in her new role as the founder of the Book Fairy Pantry Project, whose mission is "No Child With No Books," because "Books change children's lives... For good."