Books are one of Chloe Leitmann-Morales’s favorite things. She sorts through the full shelf in her family’s Arlington County living room, pulling out her choices one after another, then settles comfortably on almost any nearby lap. She’s ready to listen and follow along as her father, mother or grandmother reads about Dora the Explorer, different kinds of bellies or the dog Blue, in both English and Spanish.
Chloe has “read” more than 1,000 books. She is 2 years old.
She is a poster child for the Arlington County Public Library system’s “1,000 Books Before Kindergarten” program, a months-old effort encouraging preschoolers to strengthen language skills, build their vocabularies and begin love affairs with stories and the printed word.
The library says everything counts — books read by family, story time at the library, e-books, rereading favorites — because it all adds up to language familiarity. The process is documented in reading logs that children are encouraged to keep and color, and participants receive stickers for every 100 books read.
But how in the world can preschoolers hope to reach 1,000 books? It’s easy, said Arlington youth services librarian Lisa Cosgrove-Davies. “When you sit down to read to your child, you never read one book — you read five, and sometimes over and over.”
Or, as the library Web site calculates, “3 books a day for 1 year = 1,095 books. 1 book a day for 3 years = 1,095 books.”
Chloe certainly meets that goal, often wanting to read when she wakes up and when her mother gets home from work, in addition to the mandatory bedtime reading with her father. In addition, she and her family visit county libraries — not just the Aurora Hills branch near them — for story time and other events.
“We’ve been reading to her since she was a baby,” said father Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz. “She’s quite engaged. She selects the books and follows along.”
“I do 100 percent in Spanish, and he does 100 percent in English,” said Chloe’s mother, Lourdes Morales.
The only television in their condo is in the master bedroom and is rarely turned on. Access to the family’s cellphones and tablet computer is also limited.
But Chloe has unlimited access to her grandmother, a high school teacher who is visiting from Guatemala who also reads to her.
“You want to be creative and help them get to know brand-new things,” Lety Diaz said in Spanish. “I didn’t have access to these numbers of books [when her own children were growing up], but there are a lot of things you can teach before they can read: sounds, animals, colors . . . . What I admire about my granddaughter is she recognizes the books. Sometimes it’s late, and you want to skip a few pages, but she makes us go back to read it all.”
Cosgrove-Davies said that the Arlington libraries are not trying to get parents to teach their children to read, just to get them ready to read.
“Our goal is to get parents in the habit of enjoying books with their children,” she said.
So far, without much public attention, more than 500 families have signed up for the initiative. The Leitmann-Morales family has become so enamored of it that they have gone on to their own program: visiting all eight Arlington branch libraries in eight days.