DOME home blank
Search Dome


Hooked on Books
For more than a decade, Harriet Lane Clinic doctors, nurses and volunteers have participated in a national program that promotes a love of reading.

Child Life specialist Jessica Kugelman shares a humorous passage from Jump, Frog, Jump! with 23-month-old Donte Robinson.
Child Life specialist Jessica Kugelman shares a humorous passage from Jump, Frog, Jump! with 23-month-old Donte Robinson.

In a corner of the Harriet Lane Clinic waiting room, a 4-year-old girl listens attentively as a volunteer reads aloud: “Grace was a girl who loved stories”—the opening line of Amazing Grace, Mary Hoffman’s book about an African-American child who encounters racism and sexism when she wants to play Peter Pan. On nearby shelves, Sam I Am and Five Little Monkeys beckon other young patients and their siblings.

Child Life specialist Jessica Kugelman has carefully selected these and other books for the dozens of East Baltimore youngsters who arrive daily to see a nurse or doctor. As coordinator for Reach Out and Read, a national program that promotes early childhood literacy, Kugelman inventories books and schedules volunteers to read with children at the clinic throughout the week. In addition to this and her regular clinical duties helping children deal with medical care, she also sets aside her own time to read to children, as young as 6 months through age 5.

“A lot of people think introducing books to infants and children before kindergarten is pointless,” she says, “but the sooner they take to books, the more likely they’ll embrace reading once they master the mechanics.”

Indeed, a 1985 Report of the Commission on Reading found that reading aloud is the single most important predictor of later reading success. Additional research shows that reading aloud provides a foundation for children’s language and cognitive development—not to mention stronger parent-child bonds.

Created by Boston physician Barry Zuckerman and his colleagues in 1989, Reach Out and Read boasts 32,000 sites nationwide and has coached more than 46,000 physicians on how to talk to patients about reading. Since the Harriet Lane Clinic joined the campaign more than 10 years ago, caregivers here have used “prescriptions” for reading to give away thousands of books—thanks to considerable fund-raising and grant-writing efforts at local and national levels. With each well-child visit, a triage nurse hands children a new book to keep.

Pediatrician Tracy King describes what often happens next: “The child clutches the book on entering the exam room with a parent. ‘Oh, what a great book you’ve got there,’ the doctor might say, triggering a conversation on the joys of reading.” At follow-up well visits, the child receives more books, reinforcing the message.

The youngster’s response to the book is also a great tool for assessing milestones, observes King. “For example,” she says, “it’s developmentally appropriate for an infant to stick a book in his mouth. If he didn’t, we’d be concerned.”

Volunteer readers, meanwhile, have found their own rewards. “It’s therapy for me,” says Lois Gould, Institute for Nursing program administrator. Gould, who visits the clinic once a week, pulls a few children into a huddle, engaging them with questions throughout. “The kids are wonderful! I just love it when a 2-year-old wants to ‘reread’ the story to me. I think it knocks down their anxiety as they wait to see the doctor. And, of course, it exposes them to great books.”

Given the abundant book choices—including a wide selection of titles focused on minorities—the response from both caregivers and patients has been overwhelmingly positive. After one girl read a book aloud to her mother and younger brother in the waiting area, the mother relayed to Kugelman how proud she was that her daughter loves to read. Another mother reported that since receiving the new books, her son is more excited than ever about going to school.

“Some parents have told us that our clinic has given them their entire book collection,” says King. “But nothing’s sweeter than knowing that a 4-year-old associates this place not just with shots but with books.”

–Judy Minkove

The Harriet Lane Clinic is seeking reading volunteers and accepts donations of new and used books to supplement its collection. For more information about Reach Out and Read, or to volunteer your time or books, contact Jessica Kugelman at
410-502-8619 or


Open Enrollment 2007

Tips for Reading to Children

  • Make reading part of every day: Read at bedtime or another set time.
  • Have fun: Children who love books learn to read, and sharing that time can be most enjoyable.
  • Talk about the pictures: You don’t have to read the book to tell a story.
  • Let the child turn the pages: Babies need board books and help to turn pages, but a 3-year-old can do it alone.
  • Show the child the cover page: Explain what the story’s about.
  • Make the story come alive: Create voices for the characters and use body language.
  • Ask questions about the story: What do you think will happen next? What is this?
  • Let the child tell the story: Children as young as 3 can memorize a story, and many kids love to express their creativity.

–Adapted from Reach Out and Read National Center





Johns Hopkins Medicine

About Dome | Archive
© 2007 The Johns Hopkins University
and Johns Hopkins Health System