When First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton visited the Boston Medical Center this year, she wasn't there to talk about health care. She came to Boston to celebrate the tenth anniversary of "Reach Out and Read," a special reading program for young children.

Reach Out and Read was developed at Boston City Hospital in 1989, when pediatricians and early childhood educators teamed up to create a program to expose children to books early and often.

Pediatricians involved with Reach Out and Read encourage parents to read aloud to their young children. They also give books to their patients to take home after every pediatric checkup from age 6 months to 5 years.

Through Reach Out and Read, children are able to start school with a home library of at least 10 books. And parents learn that reading aloud is the most important thing they can do to help their children love books and to start school ready to learn.

"Reading," Clinton said at the Reach Out and Read event, "can open up doors and windows to a child that would otherwise be closed."

In this holiday season, you can open up doors and windows on the world for small children. It's simple: Take time during your winter break from school to read to someone younger than yourself. You could read to your little brothers, sisters or cousins. You could read to a group of neighborhood kids. You could even volunteer at your local library or community center to do some holiday reading. Ask the children's librarian for help selecting titles that little kids will enjoy--or pull your old favorites from your bookshelves and share those.

On its Web site, Reach Out and Read provides tips for parents on how to read to small kids. We've adapted a few of them for you to use as guidelines:

1. Read for just a few minutes. Most young children can only sit still for a short story. As they grow, they will sit longer.

2. Talk about the pictures in the book. Point out special things in the pictures to your reading companion.

3. As you read, follow the words with your finger. This will help your companion develop important reading skills.

4. Let your reading companion turn the pages. Babies will be using board books and will need help turning pages, but a 3-year-old can do it alone.

5. Show your reading companion the book's cover and explain what the story is about.

Another fun thing to do this holiday season is to read for pleasure on your own. This reading assignment is not for a test. You don't have to write down a vocabulary list or answer essay questions about the book. It's simply a gift you're giving yourself.

How can you find a really good book? The list of Newbery Award winners is a good place to start. The American Library Association (ALA) established the Newbery 65 years ago to honor U.S. authors they believed made the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children each year. Winners are announced at the ALA's annual midwinter meeting.

The 1999 Newbery Award winner was "Holes" by Louis Sacher. This novel, which is both serious and funny, is about the misadventures of Stanley Yelnat, whose family has a history of bad luck. The twists and turns of the plot will keep you reading late into the night!

Here are some other Newbery medal books from the 1990s. How many of them have you read? They are all available at libraries and bookstores:

* 1998: "Out of the Dust," by Karen Hesse.

* 1997: "The View from Saturday," by E.L. Konigsburg.

* 1996: "The Midwife's Apprentice," by Karen Cushman.

* 1995: "Walk Two Moons," by Sharon Creech.

* 1994: "The Giver," by Lois Lowry.

* 1993: "Missing May," by Cynthia Rylant.

* 1992: "Shiloh," by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

* 1991: "Maniac Magee," by Jerry Spinelli.

* 1990: "Number The Stars," by Lois Lowry.

Happy holiday reading!

Tips for Parents

To learn out more about Reach Out and Read, contact the group at 2 Charlesgate West, Boston, MA 02215; telephone: 617-638-3380; or visit the program on the Web at www.reachoutandread.org.

Another excellent resource for information about reading and young children is based right here in Washington. For information about Reading Is Fundamental, call 202-287-3220 or visit the Web site www.rif.org.

For You to Do

As you read with young friends, make a poster to keep track of the stories you finish. On it, write the names of the books and their authors. Draw pictures that show what the book is about. Ask your reading companion to say what he or she liked about the book, and add those quotes to your poster. When you get back to school, show your poster to your teacher or the school librarian. Don't be surprised if it ends up on a classroom or library bulletin board!