Children's Literacy Program: Our Stories

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Every day doctors, nurses, staff, and volunteers tell us about how children’s books have made a difference in the lives of young patients and visitors.

Children's Literacy Child and Doc Kneeling Photo

It’s hard for a doctor to articulate the bittersweet joy of giving a five-year-old a book, only to discover it’s the first one he’s ever had. It’s not easy to explain what it means to a nurse when a parent, with tears in her eyes, tries to give a book back because she thinks she has to pay for it and she doesn’t have the money.

Children’s Literacy Program volunteer readers can always tell which children are new patients. They are the ones that beg to take one of the books from the volunteer’s book bag in the waiting room because they absolutely refuse to believe that patients (and each of the siblings with them) really will get a book of their own when they get to the exam room, even though the volunteer earnestly explains that’s how it works at HCMC. Our regular patients know.

Yesterday, a 5 year old was with me for about 90 minutes. He was delightful and bright and curious and very funny. When I got up to leave, I thanked him for reading with me. He replied, "You're welcome…are you going to miss me?" I assured him I would and told him I hoped he would have his turn with the doctor soon. He said, "Oh, I saw the doctor a long time ago. I told Papa I wanted to read with you so he's been waiting to take me home." That kind man had sat patiently for over 90 minutes AFTER they saw the doctor so his son and I could read.

Read to a family of three children. We read simple color/ABC/picture books and I made the experience interactive by reading the English, they then would say it to me in Spanish. I have practically doubled my Spanish vocabulary! Rest of the night spent with a sweet 2-year-old girl who would point and mimic sounds with me as I read.

Children's Literacy Girl Reading Close-up Photo

Read to a brother and sister, ages 4 and 6. Very interactive. We only got through four books in an hour because they wanted to talk about each page. A joy – both of them.

Read with two Spanish-speaking siblings for about an hour and 15 minutes. We went through almost every book in my bag practicing counting, colors and English vocabulary. Their mom had me distract them while the docs worked on their dad’s injury.

I read to a five year old Somali girl as her mother and baby brother sat quietly next to us. We were about one-third of the way through when the mother asked if she could read each page after me as practice reading aloud. The two of us switched off holding the book, reading and re-reading the story to the little girl. When we finished, the girl told me that her mother had never read to her before. Her mother explained that she was scared of making a mistake. Seeing the words, hearing me read them, and then repeating them aloud, gave her confidence that she could sound out words and read to her daughter at home.

Read to a little boy who’d been to the zoo today so we went through all the animal books I could find.

I try to stay near the parents when I “read” with a little kid so they can see some of the options (e.g. describing colors, counting the number of animals, etc.) and maybe practice them later.

I was asked by a nurse to stay and read while she administered meds through a patient’s IV.

Read to my first bleeding-all-over-everywhere child today. He stopped crying and turned the pages, which also calmed down his brother.