Putting 500 books into a young child’s home has the same impact on educational success as having two parents with master’s degrees. That’s according to a 20-year, 27-nation study by M.D.R. Evans and others, and it’s true in rich and poor nations and rich and poor families. It doesn’t matter what the parents do for a living or how educated they are: 500 books will give their children a leg up in the world.

Where are you going to get 500 books? How about the library?

All over Southern Illinois -- and the world -- libraries are launching summer reading programs to encourage kids to keep reading, offering fun programs and rewarding prizes to kids (and sometimes teens) for time spent reading. At most local libraries the theme will be Paws to Read, which means there will be lots of animals (real and imagined) coming to the library this summer.

At the Carbondale Public Library the program runs June 16-25. There are volunteer opportunities for teens, weekly Family Story Times on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. for infants and kids up to 6, weekly movies and many other programs like “Birds of Prey” on July 9 at 2 p.m., and “Mascot Mania” on July 19 at 10 a.m. with the SI Miners mascots, the Saluki Dogs and Clifford.

Even babies and toddlers can earn rewards for books read to them. Why encourage families to read with their little ones? Because fourth-grade reading scores are the greatest predictor of lifetime income, how healthy you’ll be, whether or not you’ll go to jail and how long you’ll live. And, the greatest predictor of fourth-grade reading scores is reading readiness by age 5.

Douglas County, Colorado, library director Jamie LaRue cited those statistics last fall to a group of Illinois librarians, and then he said this: “The most powerful thing we could do to save children’s lives, the most powerful thing we could do to reduce incarceration rates, the most significant thing we could do to reduce poverty is to put books in people’s homes.” You don’t have to own the books, of course. You can borrow them.

It’s not only children who benefit from reading. Several studies have shown that reading prevents Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Reading fiction specifically has been shown to increase creativity and empathy. Reading is good for all of us. So, come check out a book -- or 500 of them! -- and bring your family. This summer, your kids might want to meet an owl or a mascot, read to a dog and earn prizes. The important thing is that they read and learn to love it. In the end, we’ll all be better for it.

DIANA BRAWLEY SUSSMAN is director of Carbondale Public Library, has a master’s degree in Library and Information Science and is member of the Southern Illinois Behavioral Health Team through the Positive Youth Development Coalition

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