I Don’t Have Time!

I don’t’ have the time to do this.  I don’ t have the time to drive to select the books then drive to my school, to take the time to read and then return the books not used that day and then drive back to the office.  I approach every session with the same attitude – Like all of you, I’m busy.  I don’t have the time to do this!

I don't have timeBut when I knock on the classroom door, it opens and they recognize me – their big smiles – on every one of those kids faces – I melt.  All of the worries of my day – all of the stress – it leaves when I enter the room, sit down in my small chair and the kids gather around me on the floor for me to read to them.  Yes, I melt.  For a brief part of the day, I’m their hero.  You see, I get to read some books to them and then give them a book to take home through Book’em.  Their hero!

My process is always to take three to four books to read and I allow the kids to select two of them – three if I have the time.  A book with bright colored pictures usually wins.  I love engaging them in the reading and they respond – which makes it fun for all of us, me and the kids.  It gives the teacher a nice break during the day, too.

No, I don’t have the time – but every time I leave that school after reading to them, there is no place I would rather have been than right there in that classroom being able to engage these kids into a brighter future.  The kids in school today may be 25% of the population but they are 100% of the future.  And some day, I can look back and be proud that even though I didn’t have the time, I did take the time.  It’s kinda fun being a hero, you know.

Stephen Richards, president and CEO of Richards and Richards Office Records Management, Inc., participates in the Book’em/Reading Is Fundamental program through a partnership with the Downtown Nashville Rotary


The Book‘em Experience

boysreadWhile I’m only two years into my reading program at Park Avenue Elementary I feel like a veteran!  And that’s because it’s been so easy and seamless.  First of all, I was blessed to be assigned to Monique Lownes at Park Avenue, who is arguably one of the best teachers I’ve been around in a long time.  Last year she was teaching a 3rd grade class.  I requested her again so this year I’m reading to 2nd graders.  In both cases, Ms. Lownes has made every one of my visits a blast!  When I show up at my appointed time her class is organized, respectful, and truly appreciative of the opportunities that the Book’em program offers them:  great stories to instill a love for reading and books to call their own.

Last year, I stretched a single book across all five visits (it was a long one but with great cliff-hanger ends to each chapter, which made that possible).  This year, I’ve chosen to read a different book or story each time.  Both methods have worked just fine.  Now, I have to admit that reading for me is a bit like acting; you have to put a little something extra into the effort to get something out of it.  So I alter my voice for different characters.  I add sound effects where it’s possible.  And, most importantly, I make eye contact with the kids.  All of these techniques have produced a most rewarding experience for me and especially for the children.  I’m delighted to be a part of the Reading is Fundamental (RIF) program.

By Dennis Gwiazdon, general manager, South Central Media, participates in the RIF program through a partnership with the Downtown Nashville Rotary

Reaching The Reluctant Reader – One Dad’s Journey by Jeff Gunhus

Teen boy readingNOTE:  This post first appeared on the Nerdy Book Club blog and is used by permission.

My twelve-year-old son Jack just finished the third book of Rick Riordian’s Kane Chronicles series. He started the first one after New Year’s and has read the series even though he gets up for school at 6 AM, has sports after school and then homework until 9 PM each night. He’s read them without being asked, without being encouraged, and, sometimes, without be allowed. (The Kindle Fire works great under the covers after lights out for bedtime!)

Now, all this might not sound that amazing except for the fact that my son was squarely in the “reluctant reader” group as recently as April of last year.

He was smart, had great grades, was outgoing, was liked by his friends and teachers, but reading to him was a chore that was right up there walking behind our two yellow labs on clean-up duty. He was way more interested in movies, TV, video games…basically anything that had a power cord or a battery. At first, I wasn’t too worried. But over time I noticed that his vocabulary and his writing skills began to slip.

I decided to do something about it as opposed to just worry, so I created the Early Morning Book Club. That was my name anyway. To my son, I’m sure it was the Early Morning Torture Club. We got up an hour earlier and he read out loud to me for an hour. Luckily for him, his younger brother (William, 10) wanted in on the action, so we settled on alternating days.

The first week was rough. Thankfully, we had agreed on a no-complaining rule so the bleary-eyed boys (and coffee-craving Dad) trudged quietly downstairs to the sunroom, turned on the gas fire, and got down to reading. We had already read a few of the Harry Potter books out loud at bedtime, so we continued with that series. I taught the boys two lessons my fourth grade teacher (the very British Mrs. Harvey) had instilled in me…sit up straight and read with a pencil. Both boys had more than their fair share of slouching going on, but they did underline the heck out of words they didn’t know and created a running vocabulary list.

By the end of the week, the results were in and I wasn’t sure how it was working. The boys were a little more tired for school. They seemed only marginally excited about the whole thing. I worried that I was going to turn them off to reading instead of getting them excited. (Another mainstay of parenting is second-guessing whether you’re doing the right thing or not.) We had agreed this was a Monday through Friday activity, so I had the weekend to think it through and to decide whether or not to continue.

Then, on Sunday night, I heard the boys fighting about whose turn it was to read on Monday morning. It reminded me of the arguments about whose turn it was to take out the trash. There it was. Proof my little experiment was failing. I sucked it up and prepared to change course.

But before I turned the corner from my eavesdropping hideout, I realized an amazing thing. The argument was about who got to wake up and read in the morning, not who had to. Each of them actually wanted it to be his turn. Ahhh…the sweet smell of temporary success.

I say temporary because I only had a good three weeks of this honeymoon before I felt the initial enthusiasm start to slip. The newness was wearing off and I wondered if I was just making reading a chore, like taking out the trash. I needed to do something to make it more exciting.

That’s when Jack Templar Monster Hunter was born.

I decided that I’d just write something that they couldn’t help but get sucked into. A story about two boys, Jack and his best friend Will (see how that works), who become monster hunters. There would be fighting. Massive battles and cliffhangers. Maybe even a little romance. Best of all, it would be about them. How could I go wrong?

I wrote up the first chapter, introduced the main characters, ended with a fight scene and a whopper of a cliffhanger. It was Jack’s turn when Chapter One made its debut. He was hooked and the buzz was back in our early morning book club.

I had a lot of writing to do. With the help of the boys, we got it done.

Now that the book is done and out in the world, all three of us have been amazed at the positive reaction to it. We read all the reviews together and respond to emails from readers together. It’s been a great bonding experience.

The other bit of magic is that Jack (my Jack) is no longer a reluctant reader. He’s just a reader. Actually, I’d maybe give him “avid reader”. After Jack Templar, he chewed his way through all the Rick Riordan books, clocking in at a book a week. In middle school, the literature became more demanding and he loved it. Now, he’s on Goodreads looking for suggestions and scouting up-and-coming authors.

And amid all this flurry of reading, there’s one constant question he keeps asking me…

“Dad, when are you going to finish Book Two?”

I’m working away on The Monster Hunter Academy because I don’t want to disappoint him…and because I owe Jack Templar a debt of gratitude. He made my son want to read a book. And I can’t think of any better gift to give him than that.

Tips For Reaching A Reluctant Reader

  1.  Set up time to read with them. There’s always time…sometimes you just have to carve it out of something else.
  2.  Have them read out loud. You’ll know better where they are getting hung up.  Articles I’ve read show that reluctant readers are often avoiding reading because their perception is they are not good at it. Find out.
  3. Read with a pencil. Underline words your reader has a tough time pronouncing or can’t define. Transfer to a separate page later.
  4. Make them feel safe. Set the ground rules. Let them know that you didn’t know a lot of words when you were young. Confide that there are still words that you don’t know. There’s no judgment in the reading club.
  5. Use books that are fun, easy reads at first. An author who ends each chapter with a white-knuckled cliffhanger helps.
  6. Only let them read that book in your sessions. Make it special and use the cliffhanger to get them excited for the next session.  Encourage a separate book to read outside the reading sessions if they are getting the bug.
  7. Relate to the book. Figure out how your reader’s life relates to the characters. This helps critical thinking and makes it fun.
  8. Write your own stories. They don’t have to be novels. But put your reader into the story, even if it’s just their name. Have fun with it.
  9. Be consistent. Once you set this appointment, nothing can touch it. Nothing.
  10. Have fun! This isn’t school, it’s supposed to be fun. You might be surprised. I didn’t expect to like the Harry Potter books but I loved them. Outside of writing Jack Templar, I had my own burst of reading. It was great fun and the more the boys saw me with a book in my hand, the more likely they were to do the same. The quiet mornings with my boys became some of my favorite times with them. I hope you can experience the same.

Jeff Gunhus lives in Maryland with his five kids, two dogs, horse, cat and very understanding wife. He’s the author of career books for college students and of the MG/YA fantasy novel, Jack Templar Monster Hunter. His 10 Steps To Reach Your Reluctant Reader have helped hundreds of parents get their kids excited about books.

Book ‘em and Bethlehem Centers — Reading with Kids!

Bethlehem Center Library

Bethlehem Center Library

This blog post was originally posted by Kristen Dunlap-Berg on the Belle H. Bennett House Blog.  Used by permission.

For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you…They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. –Anne Lamott

My volunteer placement is Book’em, a Nashville children’s literacy nonprofit. The vision of Book’em is for every child in Nashville to be given an equal opportunity to experience the joy of owning and reading books. We attempt to meet this vision through several programs, including Ready for Reading. Ready for Reading sends reading volunteers to preschools in low-income areas of Davidson County to read to children.

My position at Book’em has allowed me to have the opportunity be a Ready for Reading volunteer at Bethlehem Centers of Nashville. Bethlehem Centers of Nashville, a National Mission Institution of the United Methodist Women, have been opened for over 100 years with the intention of helping people living in poverty in North Nashville. Both Scarritt-Bennett Center and Bethlehem Centers of Nashville are properties owned by the United Methodist Women and have a long history of working together on collaborative projects. Historically, both organizations have been safe places where people of all races can come and learn together. Bethlehem Centers was opened by two women, Sallie Sawyer, an African-American graduate of Fisk University and Estelle Haskins, a Caucasian missionary. By starting the ministry of Bethlehem Centers, these two women abandoned gender and racial norms of the time, in order to fulfill the needs they saw in the community. Bethlehem Centers of Nashville provides childcare and education to children and youth and services for seniors, among other forms of community outreach.

As a Ready for Reading volunteer, I visit the preschool for an hour once each week to read one-on-one with the children. That hour always goes by so fast. My hour usually starts out with me sitting in the reading room, a colorful room with a big couch full of pillows and stuffed animals, waiting for the first child who will read with me. I can either bring books, which has given me loads of opportunities to visit the library, or I can read books they provide from their very fun children’s library. No matter what, though, the child always gets to choose what they want to read. The child and I will read around three books together, before they go back to class and another child comes in to read with me. It is always so enriching to watch a child as they discover a book. Some children stare at that book and listen so carefully, while others talk in amazement about every page. Some children want to read the book to me, and others want me to read to them AND the reading room’s big stuffed dog. No matter how they want me to read to them, I am always delighted at the opportunity to share my love of reading with them.

Kristen Dunlap-Berg is an intern with Book’em through the Belle H. Bennett House at Scarritt-Bennett Center, Nashville, TN.

Unplugged: Bringing Back Imagination Through Books

As a child, the library was always a sanctuary in my eyes. As I passed through the large wooden doors, the scent of those pages and the thought of the new galaxies within them set my heart aflutter. I would gather as many titles as I could and stagger over to the checkout desk, mulling over which one I would choose to start off the summer.

Now, when I look at my cousins who are around the same age that I was when I discovered my love for reading, I see that those books have mostly been replaced by a Nintendo DS or so many television shows. When put up against that sort of short-attention-span kind of entertainment, the printed word is a bit of an underdog. I don’t want to lament the bygone days of books, because I don’t think those days are really bygone, but we need to recover that sense of wonder and elation that can only be had by reading.

Book’em has given me an incredible outlet to encourage literary interest in children, and it encourages me to believe that the interaction that can be had from simply reading a book to a child is unlike any other (One little friend in my class always has me read a certain book to him each time I come; it’s like clockwork!). The act of story-telling is one of the oldest forms of communication we have, if not the oldest, and it’s easy to see why: It’s a sort of magic. When you read to someone, you enable them to imagine and create their own visuals, to explore the landscape of their own mind, in a way.

One thing we are losing with the onslaught of media and the digital world is our creative spirit. Books give us the opportunity to take a piece of a story, and craft our own visual, paint our own picture. This is important to the development of children because without imagination, we will no longer have dreamers, imaginers, creators. Books are the stuff from which our free thinking minds are born, and in my view, encouraging future generations to see their necessity is one of our biggest responsibilities, one I don’t intend to neglect.

Olivia Smith-Scott, Ready for Reading Volunteer with Book’em

Have fun reading to children!

Mary Comfort Stevens reads to a class at Tom Joy Elementary.

One of my first retirement goals was to find a program where I could read to children.  I grew up reading and to this day I still love reading children’s stories and poems.  Book’em offered me a place.  And I am so happy they did.  Five times a school year is really not often enough for me, neither is just reading to one class.  The children are so appreciative of what you do.  First and second graders can get caught up in the stories.  So when I am reading “There is a Nightmare in my Closet” by Mercer Mayer, they are right in the room with the little boy and feeling his courage.  It is amazing to look in their eyes and see them lost in a story.   

I like to re-read the familiar stories to children.  And I tell them books are their friends.  We had great fun reading “The Lorax”  by Dr. Suess this year.  They knew the story and most had seen the movie, so the story was like an old friend to them.  And they still sat quietly and listened to the story. .  . .like they had never heard it before.  The books that are given out by Book’em through the Reading Is Fundamental program, are the only books that some of these children own.  I had one student tell me at the end of the last school year that his Dad had built him a bookshelf for his books.  I really don’t know what he was prouder of . . . the fact that he had a bookshelf or that his Dad had built it for him.

My name is Kathie Dworak and I am a Book’em/RIF volunteer at Carter-Lawrence Elementary School.

Experiencing the Universal Love of Books

I recently had the opportunity to meet some amazing children at an orphanage in Haiti.  It was a great reminder for me of the importance of books and reading.  The children are so full of life and energy, and eager to learn.  They are blessed to live in a wonderful facility with many adults who love them and take great care of them.  The school at the orphanage, in addition to serving the 50 children who lives there, is also open to children from the community, who may not have the means to afford the uniforms and books that are required to attend the public school in the community.

 We were there during their summer break, so did not get to see the school in action, and because of language barrier, we mostly communicated through interpreters, but it was very clear that the children were eager to learn and very bright.  It was amazing to see 6 year olds in the poorest country in the western hemisphere navigating iPhones like experienced pros.  (Some of those from our group who let the children play with their phones will have a sizeable bill to serve as a reminder of this as the children quickly turned on the roaming feature so they could access the internet!)  

 The children did have books, both academic and recreational, but I don’t think that individual children had many books of their own based on the eagerness with which they took the materials we had for them.  Many children right here in our own community are faced with similar challenges.  Books are available to them through libraries at their schools and public libraries around town, but there is no substitute for the special feeling that children get when they know that the book is their own to keep and read over and over again.

 The trip served as a great reminder to me of the importance of helping children learn to love books and reading in our community and around the world.  Thank you all for your support of Book’em and the great work that is being done to further that cause.

Tim Stewart

Director of Service-Learning, Belmont University

Book’em Board Member

Eloise and I

Recently I had the opportunity to enjoy the adventures of Eloise when dressing up as her character for a Book’em fundraising event.  It was so much fun to walk around and chat with folks my age (of course I’m not telling!) about the children’s books series.  I was astonished how many still have vivid memories of Eloise.  A few folks had some fun stories to share about reading the book to their children.


I first learned of Eloise and the hotel and world where she lives when I was a little girl.  Living far away from the city and the Plaza, I could travel with Eloise and sometimes employ her mischievous tactics for my own adventure far, far away from the big city.  As a child I got to attend the weddings that Eloise attended – invited or not.  I got to spy on debutantes as they danced in the Terrace Room of the grand Plaza, and endlessly roam with her in search of adventure.  Even now I use some of those same Eloise-like tactics when I travel just to experience another culture and to have a little fun. 


I cannot imagine my childhood without books like Eloise and many others.  I could travel and learn even though I grew up rarely having the resources to travel very far. 


Book ‘em does something as direct as giving a book like Eloise to a child for her to keep.  She can visit Eloise’s world anytime she wants, and perhaps create her own adventure whenever she wants.  I can do more than hope that a child in Davidson County gets a book like Eloise – I can actually help by helping Book ‘em.  (I hope you will too.)

By Brenda Gadd, Frost Brown Todd LLC and member of Book’em Board of Directors 

Books Are Better Than TV!

We all recognize the educational benefits of reading a book to a child; and there are many creative language experiences we can incorporate into “Story Time.” I also enjoy using a flannel-board to illustrate stories, songs and poems. It is visual and colorful. It also promotes interaction with you and the children during the experience.

Giving a child a piece of the story to place on the board helps to engage them, bringing the story alive and immersing the children in the emotions of the characters. The tactile nature of the flannel board pieces invites the children to “feel” each story component. A simple story becomes a learning experience, strengthening a child’s vocabulary and comprehension.

The first time I used a flannel-board this year I had a wonderful experience with a pre-school group. I told the story of “Una Casita Roja” – (The Little Red House). When Maria comes to her Momma to say she is bored, her mother challenges her to find the ‘una casita roja.’  While telling the story, different characters are brought forth as they try to help Maria. The children were attentive and were brought into the story wanting to help Maria on her journey of discovery. At the conclusion, Maria finds an apple and brings it to her Mother- having found the little red house. At which time I concluded with “The End” and a little girl looked up at me and asked, “Is that all?” I replied yes, then she exclaimed “That was better than tv!”

Lea Velasquez, Book’em Ready for Reading volunteer.  As a Ready for Reading volunteer, Lea reads weekly to a class at King’s Daughters Day Home.

Books of Every Kind for Granddaughter

Baby with bookI am a new grandmother!  I have an eight month old granddaughter, my first grandchild.  Yes, I am spoiling her.  Yes, I am reading to her.  And, it is so exciting to see the light in her eyes when I show her an Eric Carle book with the large bright illustrations.  She seems to be devouring the pictures.  Is she trying to put the pages in her mouth?  Well, of course!

But, I read recently that research has been done showing that babies’ playing with books, including chewing on them, is an important part of a child getting to know and love books and learning to read.  So, back to my gradndaughter, we have books that crinkle when she touches them, books that are cuddly and soft, a book that has tails with different textures, books that are very big and some that are very small, and some that have buttons to push for music or words.  We are surrounding her with all kinds of books! 

This has also been a time when I have thought back over my childhood and books and reading.  I remember having books around all the time.  We went to the library every week.  I grew up in Mobile, Alabama, and remember very well the old downtown library and all the nooks and crannies where I liked to go and sit.  I could look out the tall windows, snuggle up and read.  Some of my best childhood memories are in that library.  That is why I look forward to the day when I can take my granddaughter to the Main Nashville Library to the Children’s Department to see all the books and, also, to see the marionette shows (but that’s another story).

Books do not have to cost a lot; they don’t have to cost anything but transportation to the nearest library.  Unfortunately there are families that can’t even get to the closest library.  That’s where Book’em comes in.  We give books to children living in low income families who do not have the funds to purchase books.   Individuals, businesses and organizations conduct book drives for us and we give those books to children who need them.

Even our Nashville Mayor Karl Deal is bringing attention to the importance of reading with his Share-A-Book Reading Campaign.  So, join the Mayor and me in sharing books with those you love!

Martha Ann Pilcher, coordinator of volunteers, Book’em