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The first Book Babies have turned their tassels and are ready to take on kindergarten

A member of the inaugural class of Book Babies turns pages in a book during the Book Babies class of 2018 graduation ceremony. Photo courtesy of Ginger Young.
A member of the inaugural class of Book Babies turns pages in a book during the Book Babies class of 2018 graduation ceremony. Photo courtesy of Ginger Young.

The Book Babies Class of 2018 have received their diplomas and are ready for kindergarten after a graduation ceremony hosted by the nonprofit Saturday, June 9.

Ginger Young, the executive director and founder of Book Babies, said Saturday felt like the culmination of a long journey for the 29 children and their families that made up the inaugural class for the program.

“It’s really magical and exciting for us," Young said. “We love these kids. We feel like they have enormous potential.”

The Book Babies program is part of Book Harvest, a Durham-based group that provides books to families who may not otherwise have access to them. When Young started Book Harvest in 2011, she realized there was still a dire need to promote literacy skills in a child’s first years. She said that, in fact, 80 percent of brain development occurs in the first three years of life. 

“There’s so much brain development happening before a child even gets to kindergarten,” Young said.

As a result, Young founded Book Babies and enrolled its first class of newborns in 2013. Every year until they start kindergarten, the program delivers a set of books to Medicaid-eligible families in Durham County for the child to keep. They also provide at-home literary coaching sessions for parents where families learn how to implement various strategies aimed at setting their children up for success.

Young said that the home visits have allowed her to get to know the families well over the course of the five-year program. She said she has seen how committed the parents are to their children’s education.

“I think what makes the program successful is that we partner with parents,” Book Babies team leader Meytal Barak said. “Over time we create a bond and a relationship of trust that ultimately benefits their children.” 

The program is also being reviewed by researchers at Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy. A previous study by Duke found that the Book Babies Class of 2018 and 2019 showed higher rates of kindergarten preparedness than children in a comparison group. Duke is also planning to conduct future studies with the program.

Alma Ruiz, whose son graduated from the program Saturday, said that Book Babies was a positive opportunity that prepared her son for school. She said she started reading to him when he was a month old. Now that they have a collection of books, he is able to pick one that he wants to read and tells her about the pictures he sees. For her, Saturday’s ceremony was an exciting celebration where she was able to see all the work the program has done.

“I could never imagine that there were so many parents involved in this,” Ruiz said in Spanish. 

Currently, Book Babies has over 300 families enrolled across Durham County, and they hope to continue growing. 

“We would love for every child that is born in Durham that needs and wants books at home to have them,” Barak said. “Everyone has the right to enjoy the books. Book Babies is a pioneer in that area.” 

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