PRINCETON: Library promotes childhood literacy with ‘1,000 books’ challenge

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Amid the moms and the children milling about the third floor of the Princeton Public Library on Tuesday, Jill Ward was pushing a baby stroller filled with children’s books with her young daughter and infant son in tow.
She was modeling the behavior that library officials want to see, on a day when they launched a campaign to encourage parents to read 1,000 books to their children before they enter kindergarten. The local campaign is a version of a larger, national effort that a Nevada-based nonprofit, the 1000 Books Foundation, started to promote childhood literacy.
“If you start when they’re really young and keep going, then you’re helping them to really learn to love to read,” said Susan Conlon, the head of youth services at the library. “And it’s a great way to spend time with your child.”
Youth services librarian Mimi Bowlin said children as young as babies and up to pre-kindergarten were being enrolled in the 1,000 book challenge. The program starts when they are as young as “literally age zero,” she said.
To participate, parents and or children have to have a library card. When they sign up, parents get a reading journal so they can list the books they’ve read to their children.
Aside from nurturing a love of reading, the habit of sitting with children and reading to them benefits them once they enter school, Ms. Bowlin said.
“Studies have shown over and over and over again that one of the most important things a parent can do with their child is read to their child,” she said. “It’s so important in early literacy and in helping your child develop the tools they need to succeed in school.”
An administrator with the Princeton Public School district in attendance at the kick-off event echoed those thoughts.
“I think that having children come to school prepared builds a whole new world for them because of all the cultural literacy that comes with reading and reading widely a variety of books,” said John Anagbo, the language arts and social studies supervisor at Princeton High School.
Like with anything else, students enter school at different levels of preparedness when it comes to reading. He said kindergarten and elementary school teachers notice quickly who has that foundation and who doesn’t. He said they will give those children needing help enrichment lessons.
As an Ivy League college town, Princeton is home to a highly educated population that loves to read. Thousands of people pass through the doors of the library every day — many of those patrons being no taller than a fire hydrant. During weekdays, as many as 60 to 70 parents and children attend storytime sessions.
“We have a very vibrant community of parents and young children using our library. And we wanted a hands-on program that would really encourage parents, caregivers, to read with their child,” Ms. Bowlin said.
Ms. Ward already fits that bill. As a musician and married mother of two, she said she and her husband put an emphasis on reading to their children.
“We try to read a lot to them. Childhood literacy is so important,” she said. “I know that singing and exposing kids to a lot of things before they go to school is huge because you can sort of foster a love of learning early on.”
For information on the program, please contact Ms. Bowlin at mbowlin@princetonlibrary.org.