|Theresa Lynn is the executive director of ReadBoston, a nonprofit children’s literacy program.|
Theresa Lynn is the executive director of ReadBoston, a nonprofit children’s literacy program founded by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. In this role, she has led many new literacy efforts to address reading development, including the creation of the Early Words program, which seeks to substantially increase verbal interaction between parents and infants and toddlers. She has also overseen the development of the Environmental Literacy Project, a multifaceted program which seeks to increase literacy skills using environmental themes. This program has been extremely successful, especially with boys and reluctant readers.
What impact do the ReadBoston book distributions have on young children?
The research on the “summer slide” is very clear. Children who have access to books in the summer can avoid the academic slide that many children from families with low-income experience. As few as six books can make a difference. Free book programs are important to young children because the “summer slide” effect is cumulative. So after a few summers without access to books and educational engagement programs over the summer years, an at-risk student might be as much as a full academic year behind his fellow classmates. By reaching them early, we are working with WGBH to stem this problem before it starts.
Tell us about the many programs that ReadBoston sponsors for young children, and how Boston families can access them.
The centerpiece of ReadBoston’s summer activities is our popular and ubiquitous Storymobile program, which will visit 80 Boston locations each week for seven weeks. At each stop, children receive a free, new book and participate in an engaging storytelling session. The times and dates are listed on our website, and all public locations are open to everyone.
New this year, we are adding two evening locations, one outside the Franklin Park Zoo in Dorchester and one at the Pond in Jamaica Plain. We also have an exciting week of special Storymobile events planned for the week of August 15, including sessions at Fenway Park and the Boston Harbor Islands, so please check out our website, and visit our Fan Page on Face Book.
Much of our focus at ReadBoston is on strengthening the capacity and skills of people that interact with children, including parents, but also childcare staff, teachers, after-school staff and para-professionals. Strong literacy practices include creating a print-rich environment, reading-aloud, lots of engaging verbal interaction, extending the book themes through drama, singing, and art and, of course, access to lots of great books!
Tell us about the new summer initiative that you are partnering on with WGBH this summer.
ReadBoston is thrilled to join forces with WGBH to help put the breaks on the “summer slide.” Together, we plan to implement a variety of activities designed to provide young Bostonians with ready access to new children’s books that they will be excited to read and share with their families, as well as access to engaging, skill-building activities, both online and in the community. We’re working with several elementary schools to recruit rising first graders and their families to participate in a summer books-by-mail program. Participating children will receive six new books, plus fun giveaways such as pencils, word magnets, stickers, etc. Families that register will receive a series of text messages with literacy tips, links to educational games online, and invitations to free community events. ReadBoston, Mayor Menino, and WGBH will also collaborate on a large-scale event for children and families featuring read-alouds and book distributions.
You estimate that ReadBoston will distribute a staggering 50,000 new books to Boston’s children this summer. Is there a title or two that young Bostonians are most excited about?
Yes, we’re extremely proud to be able to offer so many books to Boston’s children, many of whom would not otherwise have books to call their own. In terms of titles, we’re hearing a lot of buzz about Swim! Swim!by Lerch, which tells the story of Lerch the goldfish who is lonely and goes in search of a friend. When the family cat offers his friendship, Lerch is understandably concerned since the cat refers to his new friend as “Lunch.” Another popular title is Brontorina by James Howe and Randy Cecil, which is a story about acceptance and pursing one’s dream. Brontorina Apatosaurus wants to attend Madame Lucille’s dance academy, but there’s a problem: Is it that Brontorina is too big, or is it that the dance studio is too small? Clever Jack Takes the Cakeby Candace Fleming and G. Brian Karas is a funny tale about a boy whose story about what happened to the cake he baked for the princess is as “delicious” as the cake itself. Book series such as Arthur, Curious George, and Martha Speaks, all three of which have been turned into successful PBS Kids television series, are perennial favorites.
During your tenure, you’ve distributed hundreds of thousands of books to Boston’s children. Is there a particularly memorable story you’d like to share?
In the course of my work, I meet tons of parents who tell me how much they like the Storymobile program. They tell me the location they went to and the ages of their children. When I visit classrooms, I often ask the students if they have ever heard of the Storymobile program. Generally, there are several children who have experienced the Storymobile program, and can recall which books they received. Being able to choose their own book is meaningful to them.
Recently, I met a young boy named Jackson at a Family Night in a Dorchester school. Jackson was there with his mother who was getting information about language-building activities to try at home. His mother told me how much Jackson likes to read and that he reads all the time. She also told me that she really didn’t like to read herself and didn’t do so very often. But Jackson was always bugging her to read him books and to get more books in the house. When she found out that I was from ReadBoston, she was very excited and told us that Jackson had been part of our Reading Trail program at his preschool, then our Family Literacy Project at his elementary school, and received books at home during the summer as part of our Summer Time is Reading Time program. And he also attended a few Storymobile sessions each summer. I was gratified to see how our multiple programs touched Jackson and his mom, and helped them both develop a love of books and reading.
For more information on ReadBoston, or to find out when the Storymobile will be in your Boston neighborhood, please visit: