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Mother reading to son
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The motto of Disneyland is “The Happiest Place on Earth,” but if you’re looking for a happy place closer to home, visit the picture book room at Seymour Library. Come on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning during story time, and you’ll hear kids singing, clapping their hands and shouting out answers. It’s not always noisy during story time, of course — sometimes you’ll hear next to nothing, because the kids are listening intently to a story, waiting for the page to turn and reveal what happens next.

Come another time and you’ll find grandparents reading to grandkids, and moms and dads helping their little ones pick out books to take home. Stop by on a quiet afternoon, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see one of our favorite things: a preschooler who has carefully arranged all the stuffed animals in a semicircle on the rug and is sitting in front of them, reading them a story. It’s story time for Curious George, Clifford and the many stuffed bears who make the picture book room their home.

It’s a magical place, the picture book room. It’s decorated with brightly colored posters and furnished with pint-sized chairs. It’s filled with animals who talk, pirates and princesses, hungry caterpillars and cats in hats. And November, which is Picture Book Month, is a good time to talk about the real magic of picture books, and what happens when you read them to children.

They learn all kinds of things.

Reading aloud is the single most important thing a parent can do to help a child learn. There’s a nationwide movement to get every parent to read to their child every day for just 15 minutes; you can learn more about it at readaloud.org.

The goal of the Read Aloud campaign is to have every child arrive at kindergarten ready to learn. Every time you read to your child, you’re improving their ability to learn. Read to a child just 15 minutes every day, and that child will enter kindergarten at age 5 having more than 450 hours of reading time.

That’s a big advantage for a child. All that reading time gives a child a better vocabulary, and the number of words that a child knows upon entering kindergarten is a key predictor of success. It also builds a child’s skills in phonics, comprehension and other literacy skills.

Unfortunately, most kids don’t get this kind of preparation. Fewer than half of all children are read to every day. Some children come to school with as many as 1,000 hours of reading time. Some come with as few as 25. That’s an awfully big gap to close.

Reading together builds literacy skills. It teaches kids about colors and shapes and letters and numbers. It helps them learn about friendship and family relationships, and it helps them develop empathy.

And aside from all this, reading together is a pleasure. We have books that are laugh-out-loud funny, and books that leave you with a warm feeling long after the final page. If you need ideas for books to read to your child, just ask. But we suspect that it won’t take long to find ones you like if you just browse around the picture book room, our happiest place on earth.

Lisa Carr is director of Seymour Library.

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Features editor for The Citizen.