Brandon Gerardo didn’t have to be coaxed into reading.
The boy smiled and eagerly read aloud a few lines from the children’s book, “Ira Sleeps Over” by Bernard Waber.
Brandon was among local youngsters taking part in Prime Time Family Reading Time.
The six-week program is designed to help children read better and promote family interaction.
It takes place from 6-8 p.m. Mondays at Keene Memorial Library, 1030 N. Broad St.
“We target those families whose children struggle with reading,” said Jess Hill, Library Assistant III.
At the same time, the program has many children, like Brandon, who clearly excel at reading.
“It really works out,” Hill said. “The kids are able to work together and help each other.”
Hill has been pleased to see children – who once were frustrated about reading and didn’t like it – enjoy it now.
“It is a really beautiful thing,” Hill said.
She noted something else.
“They get into discussions and you can see how involved they become with the characters and the themes,” she said.
And suddenly, the child who wanted nothing to do with books, now can’t put them down.
The program begins at 6 p.m., with a meal.
“We serve something different each week,” Hill said.
One week, families were served Chinese food. This week, lasagna was on the menu.
At 6:30 p.m., the children are divided into two groups.
Preschool-age children go with a coordinator for age-appropriate activities.
In a small building across from the main library, Dawn Gilfry read a storybook to little children with Katie, a golden retriever, nearby. Gilfry is the Top Dog handler for Katie, a Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog.
At the same time, older children, ages 6 to 10, stayed with their parents to read books together in the main library’s auditorium.
“We read two books each week,” Hill said.
The books are chosen based on factors such as cultural relevance and the writing and language. Many have won awards.
Books that have proven popular with children this session have included: “Annie and the Old One,” by Miska Miles and “The Rough-Face Girl,” by Rafe Martin and David Shannon.
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One of this week’s books was “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein.
The program is bilingual. Most of the books are in English and Spanish. Both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking families come to the program. Some families speak both languages.
Storytellers help read the books with the children. The children take turns reading aloud and a storyteller helps when they get stuck on words.
“The parents take turns reading aloud as well, which is really great, because English-speaking parents will try reading in Spanish and Spanish-speaking parents will try reading in English and they encourage each other,” Hill said. “It’s really amazing just to see the community coming together.
“This is the only place where I see that kind of interaction and I’d like to see more of it. We want to see this program continue and build it up.”
Hill also has been amazed to see adults get out of their comfort zones and try to learn a new language.
Many Spanish-speaking families have encouraged their children to be fluent in English, which Hill thinks is good.
“But now we’re seeing a lot of these Spanish-speaking children, who actually are forgetting their original language. They don’t know Spanish anymore. They can’t read Spanish,” Hill said. “I’m meeting a lot of families who are coming to Prime Time for that reason. Their children have become disconnected from their heritage and they’re trying to (have the children) relearn Spanish so when they visit with family they can actually speak with their family.”
That’s the case for the Nico and Chrissy Pitterson family of Fremont.
“We want our kids to have an opportunity to have interactions in Spanish, because their dad’s family is Hispanic and we want them to be able to communicate with them and be connected to that part of their culture,” said Pitterson, who homeschools her five children.
At the same time, Hill said, Spanish-speaking parents want to learn more English.
The program helps, because these parents aren’t only reading in English, but interacting with English-speaking families during the meal.
Hill said sessions have been limited to 25 families. Some sessions have been full. There is a smaller group this fall with 10 families signed up.
“The fall attendance tends to be smaller than in the spring,” Hill said, adding that the last session will be Nov. 20.
Families can still join the fall session, but won’t be able to complete the program, because it’s in the middle of its six-week period.
To register, families can complete a form at the library.
“But I would welcome them to come and participate, learn what the program is about and then maybe in the spring, they could complete the program for the full six weeks,” Hill said.
Funding for the meals comes from Humanities Nebraska. That organization received funding from the WK Kellogg Foundation, Nebraska Cultural Endowment, the State of Nebraska and an individual, Carol Gendler.
Children’s Librarian Laura England-Biggs started the program at Keene in 2013. Hill hopes to see the program expand.
“We are definitely going to continue the program,” Hill said.
Pitterson said her family has been involved in Prime Time for two years.
“The library has a lot of stuff for little kids so it’s nice to have something focused on the elementary kids,” Pitterson said.