It can be hard to get kids to read, especially today, when books compete with screens, but libraries across the Cape are offering a unique, tech-free way to encourage young readers.
I stood in the middle of a large room in the Brewster Ladies Library, surrounded by dogs. Yes—in the library. Six dogs sat around the room, patiently, as if they had read a sign that said Quiet Please. But the kids trickling into the room were too excited to be quiet.
“Today at the library, we’re reading to dogs,” a young girl named Lucy explained, while balancing an arm full of books. “You can go around to any of the dogs and read parts of books or whole books to them.”
Kids reading to dogs: that’s the idea behind Tales to Tails, an event which takes place at libraries across the country. Here on the Cape, the event is organized by the Companion Animal Program, a nonprofit that trains regular people—and their dogs—to spend time in nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and of course libraries.
The kids gathered around a bookshelf, plucking out titles like, “The Three Little Pugs.” As they approached the dogs with a book or two in hand, the owners smiled and made introductions.
“This is Xania,” said Deborah Jacobs, gesturing to her rescue greyhound. “We call her Xania the wonderdog.” A passionate reader herself, Jacobs volunteers her time so that kids without pets can enjoy time with animals while improving their literacy.
“Dogs are non-judgemental,” explained Matt MacNamara, the program evaluator. “They just accept people for who they are. If it's somebody that doesn't read well, they don't make fun of them.”
About forty kids arrived at the event and took turns sitting on the floor next to the dogs and reading aloud to them. Many parents watched from the sidelines. Beverly Bingham was surprised by the event when she happened to come to the library with her son.
“He is autistic and he needs to interact with animals,” said Bingham. “This was a perfect day for us.”
Alyssa, a first-time attendee, sat next to a golden retriever and reflected on her experience.
“It's really fun. Sometimes they look at you and sometimes they look at the book,” she said with a big grin. “Since this dog is a Golden Retriever, I was reading a golden retriever book to it.”
When asked if she prefers reading to people or to dogs, Alyssa didn’t miss a beat.
“I like reading to dogs.”
The Companion Animal Program needs more volunteer teams (regular people and their dogs) to keep up with demand across the Cape. Find out more at www.companionanimalprogram.com
Nora Boydell is an independent audio producer. She is currently interning for Atlantic Public Media.