Bring Me a Book, YMCA Instill Love of Reading in Long Beach Preschoolers

Bring Me a Book, YMCA Instill Love of Reading in Long Beach Preschoolers

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  • —Photo courtesy Bring Me a Book

Young readers explore a book donated by BMAB.

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For two years, the YMCA Early Childhood Program has partnered with a California nonprofit, Bring Me a Book (BMAB), to lend high-quality books to preschool children.

BMAB puts together tote bags, with one or two hardcover picture books in each, and delivers them to the classroom. Then, children take turns bringing one bag home each week. Also included is a reading journal, where the parent and child can respond together to the book.

Altogether, the program provides the children 30 weeks worth of books.

The idea is to foster bonding between parent and child, and to prepare children for kindergarten — getting them ready to read, in the parlance of educators.

“Reading to your child every day is so important,” Andrea Sulsona, the executive director of the YMCA’s early childhood education program, said.

She oversees five preschools in the city, with about 100 students each. Every child in the program is below the state median income. The children’s socioeconomic status, together with the large number of students for whom English is a second language, can put these children at risk of falling behind their more privileged peers.

“We’ve engaged low-income families that typically are the most at risk,” she said. “Maybe they’re not in the habit (of reading to their children). But the bonding part alone is priceless.”

Cristina Cisneros, of Lakewood, has been reading to her 5-year-old son, Ignacio, every week since her YMCA preschool adopted the program.

“It’s been really, really helpful,” the mother of three said. “Since I work and my husband works, it’s really hard to spend time with them. Because it was a homework thing, I had to do it.”

She said she hadn’t been a regular reader to Ignacio or his younger siblings before, but she’s thoroughly converted to the idea.

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Cristina and Ignacio Cisneros.

—Photo courtesy Cristina Cisneros

“My son has autism, and he has a speech delay,” she explained. “But these books really helped him a lot, because now he can use sentences. Also, he talks a lot more. And thanks to that, he also plays with other kids. Even his teacher was surprised at how much he’s learned.”

Barbara Egyud, of BMAB, said these are the stories that make her job worthwhile.

“In a previous life, I had worked for the Long Beach Public Library Foundation,” she said. “I know these kinds of programs work.”

She said BMAB works hard to make sure the children can see themselves in the books, with titles like “Last Stop on Market Street,” by Matt de la Peña, included alongside classics by Dr. Seuss and Laura Numeroff. Many of the books included are bilingual, too, she added.

“We make sure the collection represents the children,” she explained.

Cisneros said Ignacio loves the books with animal characters, and that his younger siblings have benefitted from family reading time. Her 3-year-old son also is autistic, but he too has made gains in language this year, she said. And her 1-year-old daughter, Annette, often pretends to read. The program even benefitted her husband, she said, by helping him learn how to read in English.

At 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 29, Cisneros and the other YMCA preschool families who’ve completed the bookbag program take part in a celebration at Alexander Hamilton Middle School, 1060 E. 70th St.

The evening’s festivities will include performances by preschool children, family testimonials, a presentation of certificates, and photos with the storybook character Brown Bear. Refreshments will be served.

Each preschooler who completed the program will be given a BMAB tote bag, too — something they can use to bring books back and forth to and from the public library, continuing the shared reading tradition beyond preschool. Each bag also includes one new hardcover book.

“So they can start building their home library,” Egyud said.

For more information about Bring Me a Book, or to donate to the program, visit bringmeabook.org.

Jennifer Rice Epstein can be reached atjriceepstein@gazettes.com.