Help us turn kids into bookworms

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

It was a safe bet that the three adorable girls from Wixom were fond of Girl Scout cookies, since that's what they were selling.

So last weekend at the Hiller's Market in Commerce Township, I asked about something else:

"Who here loves to read?"

At the card-table bake shop at the entrance to the store, three right hands shot into the air. It was yet another victory for literacy — and a reminder of the need for the program we're calling Today's Readers, Tomorrow's Leaders.

Julia Pallozzi, 9, her sister Kaitlyn, 7, and Addison Geistler, 7, have grown up with books in the house and parents who love to read them. And not just read, but read aloud to their children, long before the kids could identify any of the letters.

That simple act offers huge advantages in school and, by extension, in life. For most of us, it was a standard part of childhood; even if we've forgotten most of the titles, we remember the comfort of being read to as we nestled into a plush chair or stretched beneath the bedcovers.

It's jarring to think that in thousands of Metro Detroit households, that doesn't happen.

Where the problem is tied to adult illiteracy, it's not something we can solve this month. But sometimes, it's simple a lack of books for pre-Kindergarteners — and that, we're getting a grip on.

Through March, we're teaming with Hiller's and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to place new books in the tiny hands of children who might not otherwise hold them until school starts and they're already behind.

You can contribute at or in the checkout line at Hiller's, where one donor will win a $500 gift card.

The Bookstock Fund gave $250 this week, and it's as natural a combination as giggles and "The Cat in the Hat." The Bookstock Used Book and Media Sale, Michigan's largest, will have tens of thousands of titles available April 26 to May 3 at Laurel Park Place in Livonia.

Maybe you'll see the cookie entrepreneurs there. Or maybe you'll see some of the books they personally recommend.

Make reading routine

When she was snuggle-sized, Julia loved "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle. She couldn't read yet, but she would recite along with the list of all the things the caterpillar ate — chocolate cake, an ice cream cone, a pickle, a slice of Swiss cheese.

Now she likes the Michigan Chillers series. "Once it gets interesting and scary," she said, "then I want to read more and see what happens next."

Kaitlyn has been reading "Judy Moody Saves the World!"

"Tell us how she does it," said her mom, Mandy Pallozzi, who's partial to mystery and suspense novels.

"I don't know," Kaitlyn said. "I didn't finish it yet."

Addison is working on a book about a mouse who keeps careful watch at a newsstand. In the old days — which aren't that long ago when you're 7 — she was partial to "The Very Busy Spider" and the various adventures of Pete the Cat.

She's the middle of three girls, and "I would have kids in my lap the whole time," said her mother, Jamie Geistler. "It was our bedtime routine."

Donate at checkout

At the cash registers in the seven Hiller's stores, shoppers can add $1, $3 or $5 to their purchase for Today's Readers or even buy a book.

David Ellison of Farmington Hills, a retired general contractor, donated there.

"We're pretty much a reading family," he said. Two of his three daughters became teachers, and as much as his kids and grandkids loved being read to, "I think it was more fun for me."

Donor Mary Beth Tyskiewicz of West Bloomfield, who was carrying a copy of Lisa Genova's "Still Alice" in her purse, does not actually recall being read to as a child.

"There were seven of us," she explained. But at two of her nieces' baby showers, the marching orders were to give books to build the babies' libraries.

"I'll read anything," she said. "I always have a book."

That, said second-grader Addison, is how it should be.

If she did not have books at home, "I would feel depressed and sad," Addison said.

"I would feel like I need to get some books, because books are my life."