It's never too early to read
Judd Slivka
Special for The Arizona Republic
Aug. 26, 2005 12:00 AM

Baby Time' gets infants ready to be literate


Bebe Shrout was a quiet girl a year ago.

Her grandmother, Sharon, would take her to reading time at the local library branch, and Bebe wouldn't participate. She would just sit there, as 1-year-olds sometimes do.

But over time something happened. When Bebe would get home from the weekly reading time that she apparently hadn't paid attention to, she'd start singing the songs from reading time.

"She loves books," her grandmother said. "She has a real interest in books. She came to my house today and brought two books to read to me."

Now, just learning to speak in sentences, Bebe is a talkative kid, out of her shell.

Credit for that goes to the Phoenix Library, which does reading for babies at all 13 branches each week. The program, known as "Baby Time," exposes babies from birth to 2 years to reading, singing and finger-painting.

It's funded in part by a $22,000 grant from the Target Corp.

Each week, there's at least one book read, with enough copies for nearly everyone in the room - something the grant pays for. It also pays for puppets for the librarians leading the class to use, and many of the toys - tambourines, felt animals - that the children play with.

On a recent day at the Acacia Branch, just east of Seventh Street and Dunlap Avenue, librarian Marcia Wilson is singing Itsy-Bitsy Spider, in English and Spanish, and reading What Does Baby Say? to a class of eight babies and their parents.

Bebe is the most attentive. At 2, she's the oldest in the class, which might explain it. But while the other babies bang their tambourines or other musical toys, Bebe mimics Wilson.

Wilson's hands go up and flutter, Bebe's hands go up and flutter.

It's not so much about the children understanding what's going on, Wilson said, but about preparing them for reading.

There are reading skills the program hopes to impart: vocabulary, the ability to narrate, a motivation to read, awareness of the phonics of the language and knowledge of letters. It's a tall order to teach. And that's where the black bear comes in.

The new stuffed black bear has arms that Wilson can put her hand in. It was purchased with grant funds. Just before reading time, the bear comes out, Wilson's hands articulating the arms so they hug each child.

Later, in the reading period, the bear, again voiced and moved by Wilson, will sing songs to the babies. The babies react in various ways.