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Reading Books, Particularly Diverse Books, Is Important to Health

Health and LiteracyNCTE staff attended the symposium “Literacy and Health: New Perspectives” sponsored by the Library of Congress Literacy Awards program and Nemours Children’s Health System. There, doctors emphasized the critical importance of literature, particularly diverse literature, to the mental and physical health of children and youth.

Dr. Sandra Hassink, immediate past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, noted that low literacy is associated with low health literacy, higher mortality, poverty, and poor academic achievement. She also noted the importance of parents reading to their children from day one, describing the simple act of snuggling and engaging together as critical to children’s emotional and academic development. The Literacy & NCTE  blog recently described the importance of this bonding in “Have You Shared Any Bookjoy Lately?” Dr. Hassink ended her remarks with a story. During a taxi ride, the taxi driver spoke at length about his long hours and how much he missed being with his little girl. When he asked her the best thing he could do as a father, her answer was simple: read with her.

The panel discussion that followed illustrated the critical importance of reading to the physical and mental health and social and emotional development of children. In August 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement, “Literacy Promotion: An Essential Component of Primary Care Pediatric Practice,” encouraging pediatricians to make their offices literacy-friendly, partner with other organizations, and support and encourage parents to read with their children. They issued the Books Build Connections Toolkit as a guide for doctors and parents to encourage reading not only in doctors’ waiting rooms but in patients’ homes as well.

Robert Needlman, a pediatrician in Cleveland, Ohio and cofounder of Reach Out and Read, talked about his approach to primary care, which puts literacy front and center by having literacy-rich waiting rooms and demonstrating to parents how to read to their children. His concern, however, is the lack of diversity in the books he collects for his patients, who are predominantly African American. He, like Ellen Oh, author and CEO of We Need Diverse Books, stressed the importance of diverse literature for children of color. Needlman mentioned new evidence that literacy acquisition and listening to stories changes the structure of the human brain, contributes to the brain’s health, strengthens a child’s attachment to his or her parents, and increases overall emotional health and resilience.

NCTE appreciates and references the importance of diversity and parents reading together with their children in their position statements:

2014 NCTE Resolution on the Need for Diverse Children’s and Young Adult Books

NCTE Guideline Leisure Reading

NCTE Guideline Read Together: Parents and Educators Working Together for Literature

The acknowledgment by the medical community that literacy is critical to the development of the brain and emotional and physical health of children only underscores how important your work is in the English classroom.