The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
June 18, 2004

Remarks by First Lady Laura Bush at Reach Out and Read Gala
Franklin Institute of Science Museum
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
June 17, 2004

6:45 P.M. EDT

MRS. BUSH: Stefon presented me with Arthur in a Pickle -- (laughter) -- by Mark Brown, who I took -- Mark Brown the author, I took with me to a book festival that Ludmilla Putin had in Russia. And he couldn't speak Russian. But his great pictures, he drew these teriffic pictures, and the children, Russian children, didn't need a translator.

So I want to tell Mark Brown that he's Stefon's favorite author. I know Mark Brown would be very, very moved.

Thank you very, very much, Stefon, for that great introduction. And thank you, Dr. Haecker. She told me that you are a great reader and I can see that she's right. In fact, I heard that Stefon recently won the Reading Achievement Award in school for being such a great reader. Congratulations, Stefon. (Applause.)

Thank you, thanks to everyone here for your warm welcome to Philadelphia, the birthplace of America. This city is full of history and historical landmarks, where right here we're presided over by Benjamin Franklin, where you've got the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Art Museum, and of course, Pat and Gino's! (Laughter.)

I'm sad that my good friends, Dr. Barry Zuckerman -- who actually is responsible for developing Reach Out and Read -- Dr. Perri Klass couldn't make it today. We heard they sat on the runway in Boston for about five hours. And I know they are really disappointed not to be here to thank each one of you personally. But, Dr. Haecker, thanks to you very much for your commitment to the children of Philadelphia.

I appreciate the many volunteers who read to children at Reach Out and Read clinics, and a special thanks to all of the corporate sponsors from the public sector as well, and the private sector, who are our supporters tonight. I'm thrilled that you've joined the ranks of Philadelphia's medical professionals in setting a new standard for pediatric health care. You set an inspiring example for all Americans.

I also try to set an example through my work. And according to some kindergarten students, I do some pretty extraordinary things. Their teacher asked them to write and tell me what I do every day, and these were some of their responses, and they give an indication of the wide range of my responsibilities.

A little girl named Shelby wrote that I help the President with his paperwork and then I help him clean his office. And I take care of him when he's sick and put cold cloths on his head. (Laughter.) Shelby wasn't the only child concerned about the President's health. Megan said that I spend my time -- I feed the dogs, I plant the daffodils and I do the President's speeches when he isn't feeling well. (Laughter.) On the other hand, Todd thinks that there's more manual labor involved in my job -- but that I always look good doing it. He wrote that I wear pretty suits and I shovel the snow and feed the birds. (Laughter.) I'm so grateful that summer has arrived and I could put away my snow shovel. (Laughter.)

Of course, what I really get to do are events like tonight. Reach Out and Read is one of my favorite programs and I'm so glad to be here tonight to talk to you about it and to encourage you to recruit more people to become involved in Reach Out and Read. Reach Out and Read really makes sure that we can have healthy beginnings and bright futures for America's children. And we know that books and reading are essential for both.

For more than 15 years, Reach Out and Read has touched the lives of millions of children. Their mission is simple, and that's to make reading a lifelong joy for every child and every family. Pediatricians know that reading to children is the best medicine for their cognitive and language development. It paves the way for their success in school, and it provides quality time for families.

President Bush and I are lucky to have had parents who read to us and taught us to love books from an early age. Some of my fondest memories from childhood are those times that I spent with my mother, the times I spent with her and the books that we shared when she read to me. And, of course, I loved reading Good Night Moon and the Runaway Bunny to Barbara and Jenna. Those of you who have children or grandchildren know that the best way to quiet fidgety toddlers is to pull out a good book -- or maybe three or four good books.

My girls loved story time, although reading didn't always quiet them. Maybe that's because their father encouraged the girls to take Dr. Seuss's Hop on Pop literally. (Laughter.) The President would lie on the floor while he read Hop on Pop to the girls and the girls would act out the story and jump up and down on him. This was not a research-proven method for teaching reading -- (laughter) -- but our girls learned to love books. And this love has grown throughout their lives.

Sadly, some children are not read to, and many do not have books of their own. Here in Philadelphia, the majority of children who live in low-income homes have an average of less than one book. Many children have parents who don't take time to read with them. And some have parents who can't read at all. Mothers in Philadelphia between the ages of 17 and 21 read, on average, at the sixth grade level. Yet studies show that a parent's educational level is the single most important determining factor in a child's success in school. For many children, the joy of books and reading are never known. Children from middle income homes in Philadelphia enter school with up to 1700 hours of one-to-one experiences with books. Children from low income families have 25 hours. And for them, learning to read can be a struggle.

These statistics are conclusive proof of why Reach Out and Read is so important. I first became aware of Reach Out and Read when my husband was governor of Texas. In 1997, I helped launch the first program site in the state and later worked to establish a state Reach Out and Read office. That prescription for reading that doctors give to children and their caregivers adds the authority of the medical community to literacy. Reach Out and Read prepares children for a lifetime of learning. Reading is the bond between caregivers and children, and it helps break the cycle of family illiteracy.

We know 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. Educators consider reading aloud to young children to be the single most important activity to promote success in reading and learning in school. In fact -- and I think this is very interesting -- reading scores in the tenth grade can be predicted with surprising accuracy based on a child's knowledge of the alphabet in kindergarten. That's why it's so important to read to babies every day starting as early as six months. Research shows that babies who grow up in a language-rich environment, where they are read to, sung to and told stories to, demonstrate higher reading skills than other children. And this is true regardless of their family income.

When parents hold their children in their laps and read to them, they teach children that reading is important and that they also teach them that they're important. Parents who are given a picture book and a prescription for reading by their child's physician are four times more likely to read out loud to their children. And doctors say that many parents report that reading aloud is both theirs and their child's favorite activity.

Pediatricians who prescribe reading are not just helping children learn to love books and reading, but they're helping parents as well. Dr. Donna Bacchi, a pediatrician at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, started a reading program there in her practice. And she told me that she just thought she would practice the very first prescription. So she had a little patient who came in with asthma. So she talked with the boy's mother about the importance of reading to them and she showed the mother how to hold the baby and the book. And then after a few minutes, the mom whispered in Dr. Bacchi's ear, Doctor, I can't.

Fortunately, Dr. Bacchi was prepared. She knew a literacy provider in the little rural town this woman was from in West Texas, and so she was able to let that woman go to this literacy provider so she could learn to read stories to her child, and she could also read the labels on her child's asthma medication. What an extraordinary opportunity to end illiteracy for one family and to enrich their lives with reading.

This is exactly what Reach Out and Read is doing for children and their families in Philadelphia. The program is a success because parents trust their pediatricians -- because doctors can identify reading problems early -- and Reach Out and Read is a success because of each one of you. With your continued support, Reach Out and Read can meet its goal of launching 1500 new program sites in the next five years. This expansion will build the libraries and the love of reading for a million more children.

There are many ways you can support Reach Out and Read. You can sponsor a child in the program. You can hold a book drive or a book fair in your neighborhood, or you can volunteer to read to children at a Reach Out and Read site. You can even encourage pediatricians to implement an early childhood reading program in their office.

We all have the responsibility to prepare children for success in school and for a lifetime of learning. Children are small for such a short time in their lives. Their minds are like little sponges in those first years. And there's no better time to put them in your lap and share the magic of a good book. All children need books and somebody to read with. It's incumbent upon us to ensure that they become the readers and the leaders of tomorrow.

A bright little boy once said, I love reading books because reading makes you smart. Stefon knows the benefits of books and reading. Every child should have a chance to know that. And thanks to you, the children of Philadelphia will.

Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)

END 6:55 P.M. EDT

Return to this article at:

Click to print this document