A Prescription for Books: Just What the Doctor Ordered … Welcoming Matt Ferraguto of Reach Out and Read to the Reading Tub

As you probably already know, I first “met” Matt Ferraguto, Director of Communications for Reach Out and Read, during in March 2008, during the first Share a Story – Shape a Future blog tour for literacy. He introduced himself via comments on various posts, and then we started corresponding regularly via eMail. It is through Matt that I met Sue Rockwell, Executive Director of ROR Virginia.

Reach Out and Read is a program that works with pediatricians so they can give books to children, particularly those in poverty. Because children ages 6 months to 5 years regularly visit their doctor, each visit is an opportunity to encourage literacy and help parents instill a love of reading. ROR calls it a “Prescription for a healthy childhood.”

Recently, Matt had an opportunity to interview Richard Robinson, Chairman, President, and CEO of Scholastic, Inc. They talked about Scholastic’s global literacy campaign “Read Every Day. Lead a Better Life.” The goal of the campaign, based on Scholastic’s Reading Bill of Rights, is to raise awareness about the importance of strong reading skills in our digital lives. They also talked about the company’s 90th anniversary celebration.  Matt was thoughtful enough to share it with me, and has graciously jumped in the Tub as our guest so I can share it with you. Take it away, Matt!
For more than a decade, Scholastic and the nationwide school readiness initiative Reach Out and Read have been partners in their shared mission to promote early literacy. In fact, Scholastic Book Clubs has donated millions of books to the children and families Reach Out and Read serves, through the ClassroomsCare initiative. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Dick Robinson, Chairman, President, and CEO of Scholastic Inc., about the literacy campaign and Scholastic’s 90th Anniversary.

Matt: What do you hope that the “Read Every Day. Lead a Better Life.” global literacy campaign will accomplish?
Dick
: Today we live in a world full of digital information. Yet reading has never been more important, for we know that for young people the ability to read is the door opener to the 21st Century: to hold a job, to understand their world, and to discover themselves. That is why we are asking everyone… parents, teachers, school and business leaders and the general public… to join our Global Literacy Call to Action and support every child’s right to read for a better life and success in the 21st century. In addition to raising awareness about the importance of reading in the digital age, we are providing simple action steps anyone can take to encourage a child in their life to read every day. These steps and more information are available at www.scholastic.com/readeveryday.

Matt: How did you become so interested in the issue of childhood literacy?
Dick
: It has always been part of my life. My father, Maurice Robinson, founded Scholastic 90 years ago with the publication of a classroom magazine for students to help explain the contemporary world to them while encouraging reading and critical thinking. That inspiration still drives our company today, for we know that literacy, the ability to read, write and understand, is the key to a successful and complete life.

Matt: What can families do to embrace the spirit of Scholastic’s Reading Bill of Rights?
Dick:
We know from studies and from our own experience working with teachers and families, that one of the most important factors determining whether a child becomes a good reader and a successful student, is having books in the home. Additionally, parents are a child’s first teacher and reading role model. If children see others in the family reading, they will think it is important. Every parent can speak or read a story to a child and every parent can encourage a child to read every day. You’ll find these actions steps and other resources on our literacy campaign web site at www.scholastic.com/readeveryday.

Matt: Over the years, nearly 30 million children have participated in the Scholastic Book Clubs ClassroomsCare program, resulting in more than 10 million books being donated to Reach Out and Read and other literacy organizations. What is it that makes the program so successful, in your mind?
Dick
: The simple message of ClassroomsCare is a lesson in reading and giving. By reading 100 books, a classroom of students helps provide books to kids who aren’t lucky enough to own any themselves. It’s incredible to me that more than 10 million books have been donated to children through groups like Read Out and Read because of ClassroomsCare. Millions of children have books of their own now because of the dedication of teachers and the participation of kids across America. Teachers tell us how much every child loves to help others by donating books.

Matt: What’s been the most significant change to the publishing industry that you’ve seen as President and CEO of Scholastic? How has that changed the way you do business?
Dick
: For young people who are bombarded by digital information through mobile devices and computer screens 24/7, it is even more important for them to know how to analyze, interpret and understand that information. This journey of learning begins with reading, whether in print or digitally, and our mission has been, and always will be, to help them learn how to read so they can understand their world.<

Matt: What impact do you think the Kindle and other e-readers will have on children’s books and the way families read together in the future?
Dick
: The needs of children on electronic devices are quite different from the functionality that the current dedicated e-readers provide. Kids want color; they want a real voice, not a simulated voice; they want some animation and reading supports. Scholastic is preparing to launch our e-reader software application this school year to meet the unique needs of kids. Children who may be more inclined to technology than to printed books may find that the printed word takes on new interest on the right device loaded with the right e-reading software. At the same time, we think the experience of a parent reading aloud with a child should be part of every day – whether on printed pages or on a technology platform.

Matt: As part of your literacy campaign, Scholastic is launching a website, You Are What You Read, where everyone, young and old alike, can share the books that helped shape who they are. Tell us about that.
Dick
: While the Reading Bill of Rights, our eight beliefs that affirm every child’s right to read, is at the core of our literacy campaign, the new web site launching October 22, 2010  will unite a global community of readers around the great books of our lives. You will be able to share the books that influenced who you are today – whether you are 6 or 66 – and you’ll be able to see who else shares your books throughout the world. We call this your “Bookprint” and it is built on an idea from Dr. Alfred Tatum about building a “textual lineage” – a reading and writing autobiography that shows that who you are is in part developed by the stories and information you’ve experienced. At launch we will have the Bookprints of more than 120 widely recognized people from the arts, entertainment, business, science, sports, and media on the site as well. For example, you’ll be able to see if your Bookprint includes any of the choices of a world famous astrophysicist, a top recording star or a former President of the United States.

Matt: What’s the best piece of advice about reading aloud that you can give to new parents?
Dick
: Read every day. Start when your children are young, by reading to and with them. It builds a love of reading in the best possible way…great stories and a special time with mom or dad. Even if you do not think of yourself as a reader, you can help your child by reading or telling them a story based on a book.

Matt: Why did you become such a strong supporter of Reach Out and Read?
Dick
: Reach Out and Read shares a mission with Scholastic of ensuring that books and reading are a part of every child’s life, and that children will be better prepared to succeed if they are surrounded by books starting at a very young age. Reach Out and Read reaches the children that need our books the most, and for more than a decade Reach Out and Read has proved to be an incredible way for parents to get books for their children. We look forward to continuing to support Reach Out and Read as together we uphold the right of every child to read and realize a complete life.
Matt: What is your favorite children’s book?
Dick
: The first book I read with my mother was The Little Engine that Could.

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