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Wednesday, July 21, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Trying to make reading second nature for kids

By Javacia N. Harris
Times Snohomish County Bureau

Ivonn Sanchez, left, and Yuribeth Rodriguez, both 11, read "Scooby-Doo Meets Big Foot" with Principal Sue Venable at College Place Elementary in Lynnwood as part of the First Book program.
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For kids who love to read, borrowing the latest "Junie B. Jones" or "Animal Ark" from the library is always fun. But being able to keep the books is even better.

That's the treat students in the summer program at College Place Elementary School in Lynnwood recently got, thanks to the Snohomish-King County chapter of First Book. The national nonprofit organization gives children, especially those from low-income families, their own new books.

"The only book in some homes is a phone book," said Greg Gourley, the chairman of the First Book Sno-King Advisory Board. Gourley, who said he had great access to books as a child through his aunt and uncle's library, said he wants all children to have the same opportunity.

Through grants from foundations and corporations and book donations from publishers, the local First Book chapter gives new books to schools and literacy programs in Snohomish County and North King County. This summer, the board has set a goal of providing every child in the Edmonds School District's summer-school reading programs with three new books, donating about 4,800 books to the programs.

Last week, Gourley and volunteers from Sound Community Bank, one of the organization's local sponsors, gave a new book to each of the 60 students in the College Place Elementary School summer program. The program, which helps students who are struggling with reading or math, will give each student two more books before the end of summer.

"We have a population of children who aren't able to afford many books," College Place Elementary Principal Sue Venable said. More than half of the school's students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

"Some of our families aren't able to even get to libraries," she said, because they lack transportation or have language barriers.

Heather Pickar, the librarian at College Place Elementary, said it's especially important to have support from programs like First Book in the summer, when most school fund-raising efforts are on hold.

One class at a time, students filed into the school's library last week and perused the tables of books, organized by reading level.

"Is this one scary?" soon-to-be fourth-grader Marianna Luna asked Pickar as she held up Betty Ren Wright's "Too Many Secrets."
Pickar told Luna that Wright is known for good mysteries.

"OK, I'm getting this one," Luna said as she hugged the paperback to her chest.

Luna later sat down to read the book with Jeanette Davelaar, the manager of the Lynnwood branch of Sound Community Bank. With a red-and-white-striped Dr. Seuss hat flopped atop her head, Davelaar helped Luna with words like "rehearsal" as they read through the first few pages of the book.

Students are encouraged to pick books that really interest them, Pickar said, and can pick one book above their reading level. Her hope is that the students will push themselves to improve their reading skills so they can better enjoy the challenging book.

First Book of Snohomish and King County has distributed 8,000 books since January.

Gourley said he's just as excited about the new books as the children are.

"The color and illustration are darn good," he said. "They're a lot better than Dick-and-Jane books I had growing up."

Gourley said he also likes that many of the books depict characters of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

One of the local programs First Book has helped is Reading with Rover, in which children read stories to certified therapy dogs as a way of building the children's confidence in reading aloud. First Book recently awarded Reading with Rover $500 to buy 200 books, said Becky Bishop, the program's executive director.

Reading with Rover has held sessions in schools and bookstores in the King County area, Bishop said, and is expanding to work with children in homeless shelters. Bishop said giving a new book to a child who is used to getting hand-me-downs can be empowering.

Kyle Zimmer, the national president of First Book, said the national group helps out the local advisory boards by handling their accounting and by developing partnerships with corporations. On the local level, First Book's advisory boards head up fund-raising efforts and seek out literacy programs to support.

Zimmer said a First Book survey completed in 2001 found that 55 percent of the children surveyed reported an increased interest in reading after receiving a book from the program.

Briana Jorgensen, a customer-service representative at the Sound Community Bank who read with the students at College Place last week, said she thinks children feel more responsible for reading books that they can call their own.

"They own not just the book," she said, "but the learning that comes with it."

Javacia N. Harris: 425-745-7812 or

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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