A Read Aloud Canine Story, or My Mother the Reading Hero

5 Mar

My mother read to me when I was little. I honestly don’t remember if she read to me every night. I know she read some poetry to me because I’ve been able to recite from memory A.A. Milne’s “Now we are six,” “Sneezles,” and “King John’s Christmas” for as long as I remember. My love for those poems–the rthymns, words, and sentiments–helps me to understand why we call memorization “learning by heart.” Those poems are in my heart. And the care-worn volumes in which they are collected, once my mother’s books then mine, are on Culture Sprout’s bookshelf.

Illustration of Benjamin and Peter gathering o...

She also read a lot of Beatrix Potter, enough that when my parents went to London when I was an adult and asked if I wanted anything, I asked for a complete set of the beautiful miniature Potter books, my originals having long disappeared from my bedroom (probably given to another lucky child).  Culture Sprout doesn’t yet love Benjamin Bunny and Peter Rabbit as I did, but I know she will.

My mother loves to read.  She likes to tell how she would get in trouble for staying up too late reading, and how her father teased her for always having her nose in a book. My father often had two or more books going at once–one novel and one non-fiction–as well as myriad magazines and newspapers that he devoured. While I don’t remember him reading to me, he bought me books whenever he thought about it–lovely leather-bound classics like Wuthering Heights and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Mom now takes her love of reading and nurturing reading on the road, as it were, combining it with her love of all things canine.  A long time volunteer with Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Mom takes one of her Bichon Frises to a local elementary school several times a month for the children to read to. You read that correctly–Mom doesn’t read to the kids. The kids read to the dog. Why? Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) help children overcome their insecurities about reading by giving them a non-judgmental, always willing audience. According ABC News, a 2010 University of California, Davis study proved that:

“Young students who read out loud to dogs improved their reading skills by 12 percent over the course of a 10-week program, while children in the same program who didn’t read to dogs showed no improvement.”

Below is a photo of a boy reading to my mother’s dog Lily.  You can’t see his smile or the beautiful eye contact he was making with her because I’m uncomfortable posting pictures of other people’s children. Trust me–this is a treat for him. Mom’s job is to bring the dog, hold the leash, and offer assistance if (and only if) the child asks her for some help. Lily’s job is to, well, lie down, listen, wag, lick, and look cute. She’s good at it.

My mom has taken her dogs to the pediatric wing of the Newark Beth Israel Hospital, to nursing homes, and to a staging center for 9/11 First Responders. With her therapy dogs, she’s helped more people than I know about in more ways than she’ll ever admit.  She doesn’t talk about it. But, R.E.A.D. she talks about. She’s moved by these children who read to her dogs and gain the confidence to improve their skills enough to fall in love with reading. I’m moved by her continued commitment to fostering a love of reading to another generation. Go, Mom!


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