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The gift of books

During the holidays we all wish to give those special gifts that are both uplifting and lasting. As pediatricians, we value the opportunity to give such a gift everyday through the Reach Out and Read Program. Through this program, we give books to babies and preschoolers at their well-child visits. We also talk to their parents and caregivers about the importance of reading aloud and making books an integral part of their children’s daily routine.

The gift of books is one that all parents can give and one that is so valuable for children to receive.

Today in the United States, there are more than 11 million children aged 5 and under who are living in poverty. Millions of these children will arrive at their first day of kindergarten bright, eager, and happy – but with deficits in their reading readiness that leave them underprepared to read and learn. Sadly, starting one step behind decreases the likelihood that those smiling, eager children will ever catch up. Once behind these children are at increased risk for absenteeism, dropping out, juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, and teenage pregnancy.

This is no parent’s dream, and it is every school’s fear.

Books matter. Learning is book-based. Books open up new worlds and foster young imaginations. But the process of learning to read starts long before kindergarten, and the first step is language skills learned in the earliest years – by being read to.

That is why we became two of the 25,000 doctors and nurse practitioners nationwide who incorporate school readiness as an integral component of pediatric care. We have made it our goal to bring Reach Out and Read to all American Indian/Alaska Native families.

In fact, this year 49,000 AI/AN children received more than 81,000 books at their pediatric checkups at 175 Indian Health Service, tribal, and urban clinics. Imagine how the gift of reading would enhance the future of American Indians and Alaska Natives if every family and pediatric provider gave out books to patients 6 months through 5 years old, and every parent and caregiver were educated about the incredible importance of reading aloud every day – at bedtime or nap time, while enjoying after-school snacks, or first thing on Saturday morning.

Reach Out and Read is funded by IHS and the American Academy of Pediatrics because it works. And it works in part because the medical profession has early and unparalleled access to families. Together, through Reach Out and Read, pediatricians and family doctors can help break the cycle of poverty and the waste of our children’s potential by ensuring that every child arrives at school ready to read and ready to learn. And parents can truly give the gift that keeps on giving by reading aloud to their children every day. Let’s join each other to help our children succeed in school and in life.



– William Flood, MD, FAAP

Co-Medical Director Reach Out and Read American Indian/Alaska Native

Chinle Comprehensive Health Care Facility

Chinle, Ariz.

– Steve Holve, MD, FAAP

Co-Medical Director Reach Out and Read American Indian/Alaska Native

Tuba City Health Care Corporation

Tuba City, Ariz.