Young Sacramento readers find four-legged listeners at their local library

At Carmichael Library, even the dogs come for the stories.

Every Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. you can find elementary-age kids reading books to four-legged listeners. It’s part of a Sacramento-wide program that promotes reading development by pairing kids with furry reading partners at branches across the city.

Kortnie Anderson said it has helped her fourth-grade son, Jonah, develop a love of reading.

”Now he devours books,” Kortnie Anderson said.

After years as a dedicated attendee, Jonah has blossomed into a self-assigned helper, punching other kids’ bookmarks that tally how many books they’ve read to the furry companions. For each 10 library books completed, participants get to pick one book to take home.

Jane Morgan, 8, completed another bookmark and picked out “A to Z Mysteries: The Yellow Yacht” as her reward.

Jane likes reading with the dogs because “they always listen,” she said.

One bigger, gray pooch scares Jane, but she also has her favorites, like a smaller white dog named Juju.

Jennifer Morgan, Jane’s mom, believes it has helped Jane get excited about reading “because it takes the focus off of reading as a chore.”

The calm pups make for a comforting environment to try reading new words aloud. Jennifer Morgan says it works for her daughter because “there is an extra layer of intensity when just mom is present.”

Jane often stays for the full hour and will work through two or three books a visit, waiting her turn as kids cycle through 15-minute sessions with the dogs.

The four-legged companions are all certified therapy dogs that volunteer with their handlers. The library program has a roster of eight or nine volunteer pets, and on a typical week there are anywhere from three to seven dogs in attendance for the one-hour program.

Handlers sit in a chair or on the floor with their pooch relaxing on a dog bed and they listen to a story read aloud by the young readers.

Jennifer Morgan noted that her daughter is “much more relaxed” and that her reading has improved since coming to read at the library.

Berta Boegel, the Carmichael branch supervisor, agrees.

“The dogs are non-judgmental,” Boegel said. They also won’t correct grammar or tell the new readers that they said something wrong, which makes for a supportive environment.

Boegel also said research shows that reading to dogs has educational benefits for kids. Not only does it help socialize kids to dogs, its a great way to help prevent summer slide, Boegel said, referring to the problem of students losing academic skills and knowledge during summer breaks spent away from the classroom.

The Read to a Dog hour is one of the branch’s most popular programs, Boegel said, and has grown in popularity.

The Read to a Dog programs are available at various library branches. The program has been going strong for nearly 20 years, Sacramento Public Library spokesperson Tracie Pompa said in an email, noting the program predates most current library employees.

The recent session was bustling as the new school year started. Summer and fall are popular times for the program when parents are looking to boost their child’s reading skills.

It’s worked for the Anderson family. Kortnie Anderson was carrying two oversized cloth bags that bulged with the dozens of thin, hardcover picture books chosen by her daughter, Cece, 4. Anderson says she takes home probably 50 to 60 books a week, thanks to the family’s three library cards.

“You don’t realize what it does to a kid until you watch them grow as a reader,” Anderson said. She’s been coming to the library programs with Jonah for five years.

Jonah plows through about eight chapter books a week, the rest of the haul goes to Cece, who devours multiple picture books a day, Kortnie Anderson said.

The weekly practice has helped them develop a reading habit. Her kids bring books everywhere and she sees Jonah helping Cece work through challenging books as well, Kortnie Anderson said.

Although parents said their kids didn’t read to their pets at home, the opportunity was curious enough to draw them into their local library and has them coming back week after week.

On her way into the library Tuesday, Jennifer Morgan recalled Jane saying about their family dog, “maybe I’ll read to Wanda tonight.”