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In Dallas, A Literacy Campaign Aims To Get New Moms To Read To Their Babies

A new initiative underway at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital is giving away free bilingual books to moms who’ve just given birth. The plan is to give away as many as 14,000 books this year.

Maria Guadalupe Quijas Duarte rests in her hospital bed reading a book to her baby girl. It’s called “Read to Me.”

Since Jan. 1, all moms having babies at Parkland Hospital have received a copy of this book. The pages are filled with rhymes in English and Spanish and English and Vietnamese as well as colorful illustrations of parents with their children.

'A horrible statistic'

Trish Holland, a Dallas children’s author, got the idea after hearing a news report about a study on the literacy gap between Latino and white children. She was inspired to do something.

“In this study, it showed that 3-year-old Mexican-American children were up to eight months behind their white peers in their language and reading readiness,” Holland said. “I said, ‘How can that be? They’re only 3 years old?’ That’s a horrible statistic.”

Credit Stella M. Chávez / KERA News
Trish Holland is a local children's author. She was inspired to help reduce the literacy gap between Latino and white children after hearing a news report about the problem.

The study, out of UC Berkley and published in the Hispanic Journal of Behaviorial Sciences, said poverty, culture and language all play a role.

But one way to help these kids is by reading to them starting at birth.

Holland reached out to different people, including Friends of the Dallas Public Library, the Dallas Public Library and children’s book publishers. They raised $35,000 – enough to buy 14,000 books.

'Read to your child ... tell your child stories'

Holland thought Parkland would be a good place to distribute the books because it has one of the busiest maternity wards in the country. Many of the babies are poor and born to moms who speak Spanish.

Holland said the book “Read to Me” stands out because it features parents and children of different ethnic groups. As she read from the book, the message resonated with her.

“Read to me every day, tell the stories while we play. In the bath and on the stair we can read most anywhere. Books about bikes and teddy bears, moon and stars, and broken chairs,” Holland read. “It really is instruction in itself because it says ‘Read to your child, talk to your child, tell your child stories.’ ”

Credit Mark Birnbaum
Kate Park, executive director of the Friends of the Dallas Public Library; Jo Giudice, Dallas Public Library Director; and Jasmine Africawala, Community Engagement Administrator for the Dallas Public Library, were involved in getting the literarcy campaign off the ground.

'Baby's first teacher'

Library advocates said the book goes a step further by giving parents reading tips. The first pages tell parents they can cuddle with their child as they read. They can show emotion with their face and voice. And they can point to and name pictures in the book.

“This is encouraging and really helping empower and teach new moms to be their baby’s first teacher,” said Kate Park, executive director of Friends of the Dallas Public Library.

Park said the effort also introduces parents to the library. The book includes a list of suggestions, like get a free library card and bring your baby to story time.

“A lot of the people in our community are not aware of all the resources at their local library,” Park said. “And [for] people who may not have vast amounts of resources, the library is the perfect place for them to feel accessible and to feel welcome.”

'Teachers of literacy'

Judi Moreillon is the author of “Read to Me,” and a professor at Texas Woman’s University in Denton.

She wrote the book to inspire more parents to read to their kids.

Credit Judi Moreillon
Judi Moreillon is the author of "Read to Me." She's also an associate professor at Texas Woman's University.

“One of the reasons this book is important to me is it does help set an expectation to the reader and the reader is the adult. The reader is not the baby,” Moreillon said. “And the book is really not for the baby. The book is for helping families understand their power in being teachers of literacy.”

Parkland officials said they’ve given out about 350 books so far, as well as a listing of all of the Dallas public libraries.

Back at the hospital, Maria Guadalupe Quijas Duarte continued to read and look through “Read to Me.”

She said the book is a beautiful idea because today’s kids are glued to technology. When she leaves the hospital, she said, she plans to read her new book -- not just to her baby, but to her other children, too.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.