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Fourteen months ago the Southwest Neighborhood Library was honored to be the location of Councilman Allen’s announcement of his intent to introduce legislation to create a new early childhood literacy program, Books from Birth. On Thursday, Feb. 4, his vision became reality. The program was launched at the Children’s National Medical Center with Mayor Muriel Bowser, DC Public Library (DCPL) Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan, Education Committee Chairman and At-Large Councilman David Grosso, and various other dignitaries in attendance.

The Books from Birth program will send a book to every participating child from birth until the age of five. Parents or legal guardians may register a child at this website: http://dclibrary.org/booksfrombirth. Every month the child will receive an age appropriate book, as well as information on relevant programs at DCPL. Books from Birth is open to all DC residents regardless of income. If multiple children under the age of five are in a household, each child can be registered individually and receive a book. Assistance with the registration process is available at your local library.

DCPL is partnering with the Imagination Library (www.imaginationlibrary.com) to mail the books and assist with the program logistics. Founded by country music icon Dolly Parton in 1995 to foster a love of reading among the children in her home county in Tennessee, the Imagination Library now partners with more than 1600 local governments and groups across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom to distribute books to more than 750,000 children per month.

“I can’t imagine a better partner than the DC Public Library to implement this program. The Mayor and DCPL have had a great focus on early childhood literacy,” Allen said. “Working together with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, Books from Birth will build on the outstanding early literacy work DCPL is already doing and the Imagination Library’s years of experience running successful early literacy programs like this around the world. I have no doubt Books from Birth will prove to be enormously popular with families across the District, but most importantly, will succeed in helping to close the city’s achievement gap before it starts.”

The achievement gap Councilman Allen mentions refers to recent studies that stated less than half of third graders in the District score proficient or advanced in reading. Exposing children to books at home prior to school attendance and encouraging parents to read to them improves literacy rates and expands vocabulary. Books from Birth begins shipment at birth or early infancy because reading and singing aloud to infants introduces key learning concepts such as numbers, letters, colors, and shapes. Babies begin to develop listening, vocabulary, and memory skills at a young age. The more parents read to a child, the more words he or she hears and the larger their vocabulary. If parents would like tips on how to read to their infants, the Sing Talk and Read program and story time sessions offered by DCPL can provide guidance.

The question often arises about what kinds of books will be sent to the children. Councilman Allen recently highlighted one book, Last Stop on Market Street. The book was selected and distributed to children through the Imagination Library several months prior to its winning the 2016 Newbery Medal Award, a Caldecott Honor, and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, among other awards. Other book selections include classics such as The Little Engine That Could.

If you know families with children under five, please tell them about Books from Birth. This program is especially helpful to those not living close to a library or who find going to the library on a regular basis a challenge. Also note that the names and addresses of participants in the program will never be used for purposes outside of the program. The information will never be used for telemarketing purposes. Other questions about the program can be answered by sending an email to booksfrombirth@dc.gov.

By: Georgine Wallace

President, Friends of the SW Library

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