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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
October 21, 2002

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at a Reach out and Reach Event at American Academy of Pediatrics
As Delivered
American Academy of Pediatrics
Boston, Massachusetts

Thank you, Dr. Cooper. And thanks to all of you, America's pediatricians, for your warm welcome. How wonderful it is to be here and to see your esteemed colleagues and my good friends, Dr. Barry Zuckerman and Dr. Perri Klass. I also want to recognize one of my home state's leading pediatricians, Dr. Ralph Feigin. Thank you for being here.

I can think of no more fitting a place to talk about the importance of books and reading than here in Boston where the first municipal public library was founded in 1852. Joshua Bates, a banker who started life as a book hungry boy in Weymouth, generously donated books and resources to establish a home for learning and literature here.

Today, in that same spirit, pediatricians are sharing the gift of books and the importance of reading with thousands of children and their parents across the country. Pediatricians know that reading means healthy kids and a world of opportunity for them. And you know that being read to is the best medicine for a child's cognitive and language development. Reading aloud provides comfort for both children and their parents' and it paves the way for success in school. For children, books are an adventure - they are a bridge into new and exciting worlds where they can encounter magicians who fly, geese that lay golden eggs and frogs that turn into princes.

But some children do not have books of their own. And some are not read to. Many have parents who know how to read but who do not take the time to share stories with them.

And some children have parents who can not read. For these children, the joy of books and reading are never known. Many enter school without basic pre-reading skills - and for them, learning to read can be a struggle.

As pediatricians, you know that practicing language and pre-reading skills at an early age are necessary for children to succeed later in school - and one of the best ways to secure a strong foundation for a lifetime of learning. Research tells us that the developing brain is shaped by the stimulation of language, words, repetition, and reading.

The size of a toddler's vocabulary is strongly correlated to the amount of time adults spend talking to a child. Hearing the repetition of words helps the developing brain understand how language is organized. Even more important, research tells us that language on TV has little effect on the developing brain of a young child. Television voices are just noise to a baby. Children need to hear language from adults and loved ones. This is why it is extremely important to read to babies every day starting as early as 6 months. Educators and developmental psychologists consider reading aloud to children to be the single most important activity to promote success in reading and learning in school.

Many parents know the joy of reading to their children, whether during cozy moments at bedtime or happy breaks in a long day. Some of my most memorable moments as a child were the times my mother read to me. And some of my favorite memories as a mother are of reading the Runaway Bunny and Good Night Moon to my own daughters.

By prescribing reading aloud and giving books to children during well-child visits, pediatricians are sharing the gift of reading with children and parents across America. In recent years, your professional concerns have reached beyond traditional health and safety issues. Today, fostering a love of books and reading has become a standard part of pediatric care.

You are turning well-child visits into an opportunity to strengthen relationships with children and families - and to promote the importance of reading aloud to young children. And you're making a remarkable difference.

Through reading promotion programs, pediatricians distributed 3 million books to more than 1.5 million children last year alone. And the books are being put to great use. According to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, the percentage of children ages 3 to 5 who are read to everyday by a family member has increased from 54 percent in 1999 to 58 percent last year. Parents place great importance on reading to their children when a pediatrician advises them to. And parents who are given a picture book by their child's physician are four times more likely to read aloud to their children.

Pediatricians who prescribe reading are not just helping children learn to love books and reading, but they are helping parents as well. Dr. Donna Bacchi, a pediatrician in Texas, started a reading program in her practice. She gave her very first reading prescription to a young boy with asthma. She talked with the boy's mother about the importance of reading and showed her how to hold her baby and a book while reading. After a few minutes, the mom leaned over and whispered in Dr. Bacchi's ear, "Doctor, I do not know how to read."

Fortunately, Dr. Bacchi was prepared. She connected the mother with a local family literacy provider so she could learn how to read - not just stories to her child, but even more important, the labels on her son's asthma medicine. What an extraordinary opportunity to break the cycle of illiteracy for one family and to enrich their lives with reading and books.

This is exactly what Reach Out and Read does for millions of children and their families.

Dr. Bacchi believes in Reach Out and Read, and so do more than 14,000 pediatricians, nurses, and clinicians who have been trained in and practice the program's approach to early childhood reading. I want to thank Dr. Zuckerman for starting Reach Out and Read right here in Boston. Since its beginning in 1989, Reach Out and Read has grown to 1,400 sites across America.

As the program has grown and spread, so too has the message that reading is vital for young, healthy children.

I first became aware of the Reach Out and Read program when my husband was governor of Texas. In 1997, I helped launch the first program site in the state. Later, I worked to establish a state Reach Out and Read office, led by Dr. Susan Cooley of the University of Texas Health Sciences Center. Today, Reach Out and Read helps thousands of Texas children most at risk for reading failure-children growing up in homes without books, and without being read to.

Reach Out and Read enables physicians to help develop a family's love of reading together. Physicians do not simply pass out books; they follow a proven strategy for reading guidance. When children go for a check-up, they and their parents hear stories read by volunteers in the waiting room. Pediatricians encourage parents to read aloud every day and explain the importance of reading at home. They show picture books to children and their parents early in the visit to model reading together. This also helps distract squirming children from the ever-impending shot. Pediatricians refer parents to local libraries and reading programs. And children are delighted when they are given a beautiful new book to take home and read with their parents.

Children and parents are not the only ones who get something out of the visit. As I travel to Reach Out and Read sites across the country, doctors tell me about how much pleasure they get from being able to offer books to their young patients.

They tell stories of children running happily into the room to ask for a book to add to their library, and of parents coming back to report on the newly discovered joy of reading a bedtime story.

As a former librarian, and teacher, and a perennial book lover, I'm thrilled that a child who otherwise might never have received a book can arrive at kindergarten age with a library all their own - and with a greater chance of having been exposed to reading aloud.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is a great supporter of many pediatric literacy programs, including Reach Out and Read. I commend the Academy for encouraging pediatricians to promote early language and pre-reading skills and for providing the materials and resources to do so. With our continued support, Reach Out and Read can meet its goal of launching 1,500 new program sites in the next five years. This expansion will build the libraries and the love of reading for 3 million more children.

I encourage every pediatrician here to reach out to their young patients and their families and share with them the gift of reading. Educating parents about the importance of reading should become a standard part of what pediatricians do, much as health and safety guidance is now. What pediatricians do through programs like Reach Out and Read is just as important as immunizations, car seats, vitamins and good nutrition.

I encourage you to get involved with Reach Out and Read and implement an early childhood reading program in your office. You can also develop partnerships with your local library, school, or Head Start program. We all have a duty to help ensure that every child is prepared for success in school and for a lifetime of learning and opportunity.

Massachusetts's own Dr. Seuss said, "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." I want to thank Reach Out and Read and America's pediatricians for your commitment to our children. Thanks to you, children across the country are learning that they can go anywhere and do anything with a new book in hand and new hope in their hearts. Thank you.


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