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You are never too young to have your mother read you a book. Probably never too old, either, but in this case we're talking young.

Very young. As in, 6 1/2 incredibly adorable weeks. And Dalayna Stepp knows that Savannah is listening.

"The expressions, the reactions," says Stepp, nestled with her baby in a rocking chair at the amazing Southfield Public Library. "It's extremely important for them."

Stepp and her husband, Alfred, have learned that from experience: Savannah is their fifth book-loving child. Researchers have proven it with any number of studies.

The more you read to your kids, the better off they'll be. They'll listen better, they'll learn better, they'll have larger vocabularies, they'll focus more sharply.

As early as Kindergarten, they'll have an edge on the kids who haven't been read to — and that's why we launched Today's Readers, Tomorrow's Leaders, our March-long quest to put books in the lives and laps of some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

Along with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan and Hiller's Markets, we're raising money to buy books for children aged 5 and younger who otherwise might not see any in their homes.

You can donate at detroitnews.com/readers, in the checkout lane at the seven Hiller's stores, or with the coupon accompanying today's column. One donor at Hiller's will win a $500 gift card. Thousands of kids will get a gift that's longer lasting.

Dana Holding Corp., EuroAmerica Design and Clark Hill PLC have stepped in as contributors. So has Bookstock (see bookstock.info), Michigan's largest used book and media sale, coming to Laurel Park Place in Livonia April 26-May 3.

They're hoping to create children like the Stepps, who treat excursions to the library like visits to Disney World.

Read-to kids are apparent

The Southfield library, the Detroit family's favorite, is almost a literary theme park, with vividly painted tables and swirls of color on the ceiling.

There's a reading alcove in the children's section that looks like a hollowed tree trunk, an oversized throne fashioned out of what appear to be books, and even the lair of a sleeping dragon who's snoring so loudly that 18-month-old Simon won't go near it.

While Simon builds a puzzle — and gnaws on the occasional piece, to the distress of his mother — 7-year-old Solomon reads to him, and 60-year-old librarian Cindy Cares crawls past, peering at the titles on a low shelf.

Cares is helping a fourth-grade teacher find books for her students to read to their Kindergarten buddies.

She is part of a program that brings adult readers to Kindergarten and first-grade classrooms in Southfield, and "I can tell the kids who've been read to and the kids who haven't," she says.

The ones from reading households have learned to sit quietly and listen. They'll lean in, eager to hear what happens next.

The children weaned only on television are prone to interrupting or wandering off. It makes sense, Cares says: there's no delicious anticipation of what's next with television, because "next" is immediate, and so is the next-next-next after that.

Aggravated, but educated

Dalayna Stepp, 32, concedes that she was tardy in reading to her first two children, daughters Safiya, 13, and Sara, 11.

Stepp was a child herself when Safiya was born, and she didn't know. But three or four years later, she learned about the benefits of reading — by reading a study — and made amends.

"I love math, science and reading," declares Sara, a fifth-grader who intends to become a doctor.

She's using her library time to work on a story for a contest; it's about a couple of kids who venture into space and accidentally wind up in a black hole.

A few years ago, Stepp says, when Solomon was 5, he was having one of those days when he wished his sisters were actually in orbit.

"Mom," he complained, "my sisters are aggravating me!"

What she did about it is barely remembered. What lingers is his choice of word.

A parent doesn't always get affirmations like that, but yes:

The Stepps — and the books — were doing something right.

nrubin@detroitnews.com

@nealrubin_dn

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