First Lady Barbara Bush handed out medals and congratulations to local elementary school children honored yesterday for their achievements in the March of Dimes Reading Champions program.

Mrs. Bush, who is national honorary chairwoman of the program, called the 25 children "special young people" who "have shown us once again that everyone . . . has something very precious to share with others."

The top readers were attending a reception at The Washington Post, which serves as local sponsor for the fund-raising event. More than 800 children in the area participated in the month-long reading program, which raised about $10,000 for the March of Dimes. The children raised money by getting pledges for each book or every 10 articles they read.

"We were doing something good, but it's not like working because I like reading," said Emily Rugel of Horace Mann Elementary School. She read 293 books and said her favorite was a series "about a woman in the 17th century."

Frederick Smith III of Beltsville Academic Center read "about 20 books a day" to reach his total of 420 books. He read in the evenings, which wasn't difficult, he said, because "I'm not big on TV."

The 1990 champion, Nicholas Daly of Beltsville, watched television on weekends but still managed to read 435 books. What pushed him to keep reading was memory of last year's champion. "I read 123 books last year. The champion read 300," Nicholas said. "I wanted to make sure I went over that this year." Other readers honored were Meta Courtney, Daniyom Haile, Joseph Kozar, Natasha Jackson, Robert Johnson II, Jule Bordas, Kinjal Patel, Jillian Smith, Seul Ki Kang, Joseph Messersmith, Constance Kilby and Chantel Leonard, all from Beltsville Academic Center. Also honored were Zachary Verhoff of Stoddert Elementary in Northwest Washington; Karen Tenenbaum of College Gardens Elementary in Rockville; Joyce Chapman, Donita Porter, Latrice Perry, Falisha Fuller and Syreeta Swann of Draper Elementary in Southeast Washington; Margaret Pulvermann and Valerie Stempler of Horace Mann Elementary in Northwest Washington; and Raymundo Jones of West Elementary in Northwest Washington.