With the unimpeded growth of computers, tablets and smartphones, the idea of reading books has seemingly fallen out of favor.

One could argue, we suppose, that people are still reading — but on their electronic devices, not from printed pages. Newspaper and magazine publishers around the world can attest to that, but so can book publishers.

The big question is: What exactly are they reading, and is what they’re seeing on today’s ubiquitous social media platforms giving people the same exposure to the unlimited variety and depth of information that can be found in books?

We suggest that social media and the constant staring at our smartphone or tablet screens aren’t giving people — and particularly children — the experiences that reading books bring. Our kids are growing up in a world where books no longer are emphasized as a necessary part of our development.

Many of us remember fondly the Saturday mornings spent browsing the shelves of our local libraries’ children’s sections when we were kids and participating in reading circles and other programs aimed at connecting children with books.

With this in mind, we were delighted to see a story by Carolyn R. Wilson in last week’s Washington County News reporting that some of our local pediatricians are trying to rekindle interest in reading by providing books to their young patients through a nationwide program called Reach Out and Read.

According to the story, Reach Out and Read is a national nonprofit organization designed to involve pediatric medical professionals in promoting reading among their young patients. Wilson wrote that the doctors at Highland Pediatrics in Abingdon are handing out free books to the kids as they “prescribe reading time for all their young patients.”

“The program highlights the importance of reading to both kids and parents, and then it gives them the tools to get started,” Wilson said in her story.

Dr. Sarah Seeley-Dick, one of four doctors at Highlands Pediatrics, told the Washington County News that she and her colleagues gave 1,900 books to their young patients in the first half of 2019.

The books are handed to children ages 5 months to 5 years, with the goal of instilling a love of books and reading that could — and should — last a lifetime.

Reach Out and Read is the only program of its type endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the newspaper story noted, adding that the organization serves 4.8 million children each year, half of them from low-income families.

The story also said that Highlands Pediatrics is among more than 6,400 sites nationwide that are participating in the book giveaway program. That also includes the Primary Care Center of Abingdon.

“It’s such a nice experience to see kids’ faces light up when they receive a new book that becomes their own,” Seeley-Dick told the newspaper. “The nice thing about this program is I get to hand the book to the child, talk about the pictures and have fun interaction with the child. The kids love them.”

The physician also said that she reminds parents “to read, sing and talk to their children.”

This wonderful program isn’t cheap; someone has to pay for the books, and that’s why fundraising efforts are underway to keep the books coming.

Initial funding for the program at Highland Pediatrics came from Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee, and the East Tennessee State University book program, through the First Tennessee Foundation. The first donation provided 1,720 books; United Way of Southwest Virginia also contributed 500 books.

Since then, donations of money to purchase more books have come from local sources, including the Washington County Rotary Club, Abingdon Rotary Club and the Washington County Public Library Foundation.

“My vision for our program is that every child who visits our practice will sit and read with their parents or caregivers every single night for at least 20 minutes,” Seeley-Dick told the newspaper. “It will help stimulate their brains and increase their vocabularies so that they will do better in school and develop a love of learning and reading.”

More financial help is needed for this effort on behalf of our children, and it deserves our support.

As the adage goes, “Reading is fundamental.”

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