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NEAL RUBIN

Reading helps kids, period — so help us help them

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

I learned to read and write before Kindergarten, and I've managed to skate through life with no other marketable skills.

Not everyone can pull that off. Sadly, not everyone can read.

Me, I'm lucky. My parents both loved to read, and they loved reading to my brothers and me.

It's almost shocking to realize, though, that in many Metro Detroit houses, that's not the case. They tend to be houses where kids have other disadvantages to deal with, too — and not reading, or being read to, can be crippling.

Starting today, The Detroit News is doing something about that. Along with United Way for Southeastern Michigan and the Hiller's Market grocery chain, we're launching Today's Readers, Tomorrow's Leaders, a program designed to put books in the lives and laps of some of the smallest and most vulnerable members of our community.

Getting involved is as simple as A-B-C. You can make a donation at detroitnews.com/readers, or starting Sunday, you can visit one of the seven Hiller's locations and either contribute a few dollars at checkout or purchase a book from a wish list of titles.

One donor at Hiller's will win a $500 gift card. All will receive a Today's Readers bookmark and, ideally, the quiet satisfaction that comes with making a difference in a young life.

The books will wind up in the homes of children 5 and younger who are part of United Way's Early Learning Centers. They will truly be the sorts of gifts that keep on giving.

Studies show that only 17 to 25 percent of children in our high-need communities are developmentally prepared for Kindergarten. Children who start out behind ultimately have a higher risk of dropping out, and the ripples in that pond extend to higher rates of unemployment and incarceration.

The Cat in the Hat, it turns out, is even more of a miracle worker than we thought.

Instilling a love of words

Jim Hiller has appreciated books for as long as he can remember, and probably longer than that.

"I grew up in a home where books were sacred," he says, not to mention omnipresent. So it was a natural fit for Hiller's to take part in Today's Readers, Tomorrow's Leaders.

He warmly remembers his parents reading to him. "But my stronger memories are from later," says Hiller, 67, "when I watched my parents read constantly."

"I knew there was something there I needed to be a part of."

Unwittingly, Sid and Harriet Hiller were doing more when they read to young Jim than instilling a love for words.

Studies have shown, says University of Detroit Mercy psychology professor Steven Abell, that reading to preschoolers "not only helps their academic future, it's the kind of meaningful interaction that strengthens the bond between parents and children."

Abell, 52, remembers his parents reading him Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham" and P.D. Eastman's "Go, Dog, Go!" Decades later, he read the same books to his own kids.

They have become classics, and at the same time, reading has become even more important.

With all due respect to crushing candy or slaying aliens, "reading gives children relationship and language skills they don't get from video games."

Traveling on the pages

At our house, the television was far less important than the bookshelf.

If you love to read, my mom would say, you're never bored, and it's one of the many things she was right about.

I grew up in Southern California, so we never had snow days — or, come to think of it, snow.

I could play baseball year-round, if not thunderously well, and when I wasn't playing it I could read about it. Or I could immerse myself in a specific author, rampaging through the Sherlock Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I still have a lot of those books. They're tucked away in the basement, so I don't read them often, but when I do, they still take me places:

Old Yankee Stadium, maybe, or a windswept moor, or a childhood made so much richer because my parents showed me the mystical power of reading.

nrubin@detroitnews.com

@nealrubin_dn