Providing Diverse and Inclusive Books at Reach Out and Read Clinics

This year, Reach Out and Read Wisconsin is placing a renewed focus on the importance of representation, diversity, and inclusion in the books clinics order for their well-child visits. To accomplish this goal, we are working on many levels:

  • Serving on the Reach Out and Read National Center book committee to voice our desire to increase the options for more affordable, diverse books for clinics to order
  • Providing book recommendations in our bi-weekly newsletter that celebrate and create diverse readers
  • Fundraising for the Windows and Mirrors initiative
  • Sharing resources like the Diverse and Inclusive book list from Reach Out and Read and the American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Ongoing conversations at Reach Out and Read Wisconsin site visits about the importance of  ordering a variety of books even if your primary patient population is English speaking and White.

Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin has already taken this mission to heart and is providing diverse books to all families served at it’s six Madison-area clinics. Recently, one of their providers, Megan Gendel, NP, and system’s Reach Out and Read coordinator shared why ordering diverse books was important to them, even though most of the population they serve is predominantly White and English speaking.

“As a provider here, I really feel it’s important for us to make sure we have diversity in books, actually even more important in some respects so our families and our children that we serve are seeing different aspects of life through literature,” said Gendel.

They also shared some tips for ordering diverse books:

  • The clinic coordinator may not always know the families being seen in the clinic. Ask the providers about the family dynamics. For instance, ordering books that show kids being raised by grandparents, stepparents, single parents, gay and lesbian parents, are refugees or are part of mixed-race families.
  • Share bilingual books with English speaking families as well. Celebrate the joy of other cultures.
  • Be mindful of gender stereotypes when ordering books. Some favorite classics (and even some new books) may not best reflect current trends.

The full webinar can be accessed here.

Books are a wonderful tool that allow kids to see themselves in the story while also providing opportunities to learn about others and their experiences. We believe all kids should be represented in books and have the opportunity to learn empathy and kindness for others via the books clinics provide.

Reach Out and Read + COVID-19: Dr. Leyla Hamizadeh Explains Virtual Well-Child Visits

Dr. Hamizadeh

The image of a well-child visit with your child’s provider is simple: you go to the clinic, the provider provides anticipatory guidance and advice, checks your child’s developmental progress and whether they need any immunizations, and you take care of any additional follow-up as needed. But because of COVID-19, these visits have looked much different.

Leyla Hamizadeh, M.D., pediatrician at Children’s Wisconsin, conducted well-child visits virtually as Wisconsin’s Safer-At-Home order was in place. The visits may have looked different and involved no physical contact, but the information covered and messages given to families remained just as important.

“We’ve never done virtual visits prior to the pandemic, so it was definitely something new,” Dr. Hamizadeh said. “For our visits we covered topics such as concerns the parent might have, nutrition, sleep, vaccines the child was due for, the importance of reading while at home and more.”

Dr. Hamizadeh conducted well-child visits for children ages 4 to 18 months via video chat or phone call and covered typical health topics. The video visits allowed Dr. Hamizadeh to see the children and help out parents by answering questions and providing information and encouragement.

While pediatric primary care clinics begin to transition back to in-person appointments, one of the key messages remain strong: the importance of promoting early literacy.

“Many children are learning at home as schools and childcare centers remain closed, and it’s crucial to limit screen time and continue reading,” explains Dr. Hamizadeh. “Reading to young children helps them with cognitive development, but it can act as a breath of fresh air for parents, too.”

“We promote daily reading from an early age to help language development and to help children learn to have a life-long love of reading. Reading is especially important now because there’s elevated levels of stress for both parents and children, and reading is a great way to reduce that stress while creating a stronger bond between children and parents.”

Starting and ending a day with reading can guarantee that the day will both begin and end in a positive way.  In uncertain times, reading with children is a way to produce smiles, laughs and creativity in otherwise stressful situations.

Dr. Hamizadeh also wants parents to know that it’s OK to feel stressed and overwhelmed. It’s OK to not meet every expectation, it’s OK to not keep a regular scheduled every day and it’s OK to take some time for yourself.

When many things feel confusing and stressful, reading a book to a child is a much needed, sweet escape. As Children’s Wisconsin begins to transition back to in-person visits, Dr. Hamizadeh is looking forward to one thing that she’s missed so dearly: Handing a book to a smiling, young child.

Reach Out and Read Wisconsin by the Numbers

266: Participating clinics in Wisconsin

1,850: Participating medical providers

159,000: Children served

235,000: New books distributed

10 facts about Reach Out and Read Wisconsin

As we continue to celebrate our 10th anniversary throughout this year, we thought it would be fun to share 10 facts about Reach Out and Read Wisconsin.

  1. Since 2010, there has been more than a 400% growth in participating clinics. We have experienced amazing growth since our affiliate started in 2010! Today, more than a third of Wisconsin clinics that provide pediatric primary care partner with Reach Out and Read Wisconsin.

2. Currently, 265 clinics across the state leverage books and conversations about reading aloud to promote positive caregiver-child interactions that foster healthy brain development in the critical first years of life.

Find a participating clinic near you!

3. At those 265 clinics, 1,850 providers are trained on our evidence-based model to give parents supportive, encouraging and positive advice for how to incorporate reading aloud into their daily routines and how parents are their child’s first (and best) teacher.

Example: When reading together, don’t worry about reading every word on the page —your child will enjoy talking about and discussing the pictures, and that’s just fine.

4. Reach Out and Read Wisconsin clinics have collectively completed an astonishing 1,839,149 well-child visits since 2010.

5. Since 2010, Reach Out and Read Wisconsin clinics have given more than 1 million books to children ages 6 months to 5 years, — 1,232,700 to be exact!

6. Since 2010, 31,693 new and 12,097 gently-used books have been donated to Reach Out and Read Wisconsin. These books are delivered to clinics across the state to give out at their well-child visits or in their waiting rooms, to siblings or in a clinic’s Little Free Libraries.

If you are interested in donating books, our virtual book drive is a great way to help while respecting social distancing.

7. In 2017, then – State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Evers, awarded Reach Out and Read Wisconsin with a Friend of Education award. We were recognized for making outstanding contributions to Wisconsin’s children.

ROR Wisconsin team with Friend of Education award

In 2018, Wisconsin Literacy presented Reach Out and Read with the Outstanding Achievement in Family Literacy award during their Celebration of Literacy.

Wisconsin Literacy's Achievement in Family Literacy award presented to Reach Out and Read Wisconsin

8. Reach Out and Read Wisconsin is the early literacy initiative of Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin, a program under Children’s Wisconsin.

The Alliance is made up of seven health initiatives focused on improving children’s health throughout Wisconsin. In 2019, the Alliance celebrated 25 years of being Wisconsin’s voice for children’s health!

Children's Health Alliance of Wisconsin staff at Miller Park
The Alliance staff at our annual retreat at Miller Park!

9. Since 2012, Reach Out and Read Wisconsin has hosted an annual, day-long meeting to bring together clinics and community partners. This event focuses on education related to early literacy, celebration of the work all the clinics across the state are doing and provides a networking opportunity for participating clinics.  More than 360 people have attended since our first meeting.

If you are interested in attending this year’s event, visit our Eventbrite page to learn more.

2019 Reach Out and Read Wisconsin Annual Meeting
Presentation at Reach Out and Read Wisconsin’s 2019 annual meeting

10. In 2010, when Reach Out and Read Wisconsin was founded we were one of the smallest affiliates in the nation. Today, we are the 5th largest affiliate in the Reach Out and Read network.

Our COVID-19 disaster response must consider children

This article was originally published by the Cap Times on March 23, 2020.

Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD is the medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin
Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD is the medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin

One of the small, initial reliefs of being a pediatrician amid this pandemic was the news early on from China that children seemed to be spared the worst of the effects of COVID-19. I’ve witnessed firsthand how deeply children are affected by viruses such as seasonal influenza — 149 U.S. children (and counting) have died this season alone. While we certainly never wish harm upon anyone, knowing that children appear to not bear the brunt of this illness was good.

Or is it? The fundamental interconnectedness of our society has been placed in stark contrast by the coming of this pandemic. While children are far less touched by direct infection, they are deeply affected by the unprecedented disruption to our everyday life. Efforts to reduce the exposure to those at risk have rapidly ramped up. (And for those who think that is a small number: one analysis showed 41% of all U.S. adults fall into a higher-risk category.)

So how can we best keep children and families in mind as we adjust as a society to this new reality? There are numerous parent-aimed resources appearing daily on ideas for activities, learning, staying healthy and remaining socially-connected. But there’s plenty of work we can do with institutions, programs and policy. My thoughts:

1. Children are going to continue to need checkups, evaluation of illness and injury, hospitalizations and care for chronic conditions — these all will continue to be needs. Certainly, some can be delayed, but there will be limits to how long that is advisable.

2. Child care is a vast challenge, particularly as many parents will need to continue to work. There’s active work going on to solve this, but it will take a team effort. And while flexibility in child care standards is needed, we should ensure children are not being given poor (or even dangerous) care in the name of expediency. Children still deserve experienced care from those who understand their needs.

3. Many families rely on school and early education-based nutrition programs to avoid chronic hunger. The USDA is offering broad leeway to allow those programs to continue, even with schools being closed. If that’s not happening in your area, ask why.

4. Essential personnel are not just front-line health care workers. Within hospitals and clinics alone, there are so many people needed to provide care even for direct pandemic response. And many others are also arguably “essential” — the early education teachers who care for the children of health care workers? Those who keep our supermarket shelves stocked? Public safety personnel? All essential. And that means we should pay them living wages, and offer them health insurance and paid sick leave. Treat them as truly essential, not just in name.

5. Speak up for our marginalized and least resourced neighbors. Many of us have the privilege of easily finding backup child care, or paid sick leave, or ample financial security. Countless families have none of this, and many are losing employment or taking deep pay cuts. When the economic stability of homes is threatened, the lives of children are disrupted. Speedy, stabilizing solutions are needed, that reach all.

10 year timeline of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin [Infographic]

2020 marks the 10th anniversary of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin. Before the founding of our state affiliate, 55 clinics were already operating and serving young children. Now, 10 years later, the program has experienced 400% growth in the number of clinics implementing Reach Out and Read throughout the state. Moving forward, our goal is to bring Reach Out and Read to every clinic providing primary care to children in Wisconsin.

A lot has happened in the last 10 years, and we are excited for what the next 10 will bring!

infographic showing past 10 years of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin

Do you have a Reach Out and Read Wisconsin memory? Share with us in the comments section below.

Reach Out and Read Wisconsin receives 25,000 book donation

Friday, January 24, 2020, was a big day for the Vel R. Phillips Youth and Family Justice Center and Reach Out and Read Wisconsin. In partnership with City of Milwaukee’s Office of Early Childhood Initiatives, Too Small to Fail, an initiative of the Clinton Foundation, unveiled a Family Read, Play and Learn space at the Justice Center in Milwaukee.

The child literacy space in the family court waiting area at the Justice Center is the first of its kind in the nation created by Too Small to Fail. The literacy space is part of their larger program to raise awareness about the importance of early literacy, brain development and early learning. After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Ms. Clinton chatted with parents, read to several children and then participated in a community forum. Additional panel participants sharing their messages of the importance of early literacy promotion and power of collaboration were Dea Wright, Director of the City of Milwaukee Office of Early Childhood; Tom Barrett, Milwaukee Mayor; Maxine White, Chief Judge of Milwaukee County; Ramona Gonzales, President of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges; Chelsea Clinton, Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation and Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD, Medical Director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin.

Spaces like the one at the Justice Center are designed to meet parents where they are and help them make the most of everyday moments that can have a big impact on their child’s development. Too Small to Fail has worked to create similar spaces at laundry mats, including one in Milwaukee and playgrounds across the country. The spaces provide a much-needed early learning environment, according to Ms. Clinton.

“A fundamental test for our country is whether or not we can make early learning available and real to all kids and families,” she said.

After the event at the Justice Center, Ms. Clinton and other representatives from Too Small to Fail visited Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, Chavez Clinic. Chavez Clinic was one of the first clinics to launch a Reach Out and Read program in Wisconsin. In their more than 20 years of participation in the evidence-based, clinical intervention, more than 100,000 books have been given to children in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties. The now four participating Sixteenth Street Clinics serve more than 10,000 young children each year. Emilia Aranda, MD Director of Pediatrics for Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers and Reach Out and Read Wisconsin advisory council member, provided a tour of the pediatrics clinic for Ms. Clinton. Afterward, Ms. Clinton read to a group of children and took pictures with Chavez Clinic staff.

In celebration of their five years of collaboration with Reach Out and Read National Center to advance early literacy and promote early brain development, Too Small to Fail has donated 25,000 copies of the bilingual book DJ’s Busy Day to Reach Out and Read Wisconsin.

These books will be delivered to Reach Out and Read participating clinics throughout the state in the upcoming months. In the meantime, a special thank you goes out to Books4School for storing the books until they are delivered.

Reach Out and Read Wisconsin staff with Chelsea Clinton of Too Small to Fail
Reach Out and Read Wisconsin team with Chelsea Clinton at the Chavez Clinic
Clinic coordinators from Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers and Chelsea Clinton
Clinic coordinators from Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers and Chelsea Clinton
Ms. Clinton reads aloud at the Chavez Clinic to young children
Ms. Clinton reads aloud at the Chavez Clinic

Family Medicine Clinic Adopts a Program for the Books

This article originally appeared in the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants’ April 2019 newsletter and is reprinted with permission from the organization.

Clinically-practicing certified physician assistant Joanna Hebgen is doing her part to change the lives of children through a simple-yet-effective method: books. 

At the SSM Health Family Medicine Clinic in Oregon, Wisconsin, Hebgen implemented the Reach Out and Read program, which strives to incorporate books into the daily lives of children and encourages families to read aloud together. 

Staff members including Physician Assistant of SSM Health Oregon clinic at Wellness Expo showcasing their Reach Out and Read program
SSM Health Dean Medical Group Oregon staff at the Oregon Wellness Expo

The clinic has distributed more than 450 children’s books and created a literacy-friendly waiting area and exam rooms. By adding books and comfy, child-size chairs, children can relax and read before their appointments. 

During wellness visits, providers give each child a book they can take home. Upon presenting the book, providers can observe the child’s and parent’s reactions, which offers insight about the child’s development and the parent’s comfort with reading to the child.  It also paves the way for discussion about the importance of daily reading. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), benefits from reading can begin as early as infancy. Kids who are read to regularly have a stronger bond with their parents and learn valuable language and literacy skills. Reading also improves their social, vocabulary, and writing skills, and it can make kids kinder and more empathetic individuals as they grow.

“I love giving out books that I read as a child and also read to my children,” said Joanna Bisgrove, MD. “Parents and kids love the books. I find that the book is a good way to calm a child during an appointment and build rapport with both the children and parents.”

The clinic’s interprofessional staff all contributed to the program’s success, dedicating an estimated 40 hours to the project last year. Three staff members attended the annual Reach Out and Read conference to share experiences with others implementing the program. 

Additionally, the clinic participated in the Oregon Wellness Expo, a free event for families to visit local wellness vendors. Clinic volunteers distributed free books to kids and network within their community.

Due to the program’s overwhelming success, SSM Health plans to make the Reach Out and Read program available at their 25 family medicine and pediatrics clinics in Wisconsin; and funding for the books will be included in the annual budget.

“’Reach Out and Read makes appointments fun.” said Bisgrove.

This project was funded in-part by the NCCPA Health Foundation’s Be the CHANGE grant. Learn more about the Foundation’s grant programs here.

young boys read books aloud together

Every parent is their child’s first and best teacher

As an early literacy librarian, I see 50-100 parents and young children at my birth to 2-year-old storytime every Monday morning. Some parents come to get out of the house, socialize with other grown-ups, or give their child a chance to socialize with other babies their age. Some parents might know that storytime is a great place for their child to learn early literacy skills while others come simply because their child enjoys the books, songs and rhymes.

Many parents look to me as one of their child’s first teachers, but a child’s first and most important teacher is their parent.

parents reading to their child

Some parents don’t realize this or don’t feel confident in their ability to be a teacher. Teaching your child early literacy skills isn’t as daunting as it may sound. Storytimes are the perfect opportunity for librarians to model simple strategies that parents can use to help their child develop early literacy skills. We use strategies based on the American Library Association’s Every Child Ready to Read initiative, which includes:

1. Talking: Talking is important because language is the foundational skill that leads to academic and life success. Children with larger vocabularies do better in school. The best way for kids to learn new words is by including them in every day conversations. This is one of the easiest strategies. You simply talk to your child. Encouraging babies to babble, practicing nursery rhymes and asking your child open-ended questions are great ways to focus on this strategy.

2. Writing: Writing is important because it is directly related to reading skills and helps improve fine motor skills. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that your baby sit down and write the next great American novel. Strong fine motor skills support the development of future writing skills. Grabbing toys, stacking blocks and playing with Play-Doh are all great ways to work on writing skills.

3. Reading: Reading is important because so many of our daily activities require the ability to read. Some parents think that their baby is too young to be read to, but this is not the case. You can start reading to your child starting at birth. At first babies will seem to play with books more than look at them, but that is perfectly fine. This will allow them to get comfortable with books and learn skills such as turning pages. It’s important for parents to make reading part of their daily routine so their child can continue to improve their literacy skills and develop a love of reading.

4. Playing: Playing is important because it helps children develop fine and gross motor skills, imagination, and creativity. Children can discover so much about the world around themselves simply by playing and exploring. Babies can start playing during tummy time by placing toys in front of them to look at and reach for. As children get older they learn to play with others and to use their imagination by playing pretend.

5. Singing: Singing is important because it helps break words down into syllables that are easier for babies to understand and remember. Many parents are intimidated by singing because they feel silly or think they have a bad voice. Luckily babies don’t care what your voice sounds like; they just like hearing singing. You can sing lullabies, kid’s songs (If You’re Happy and You Know It, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, ABC’s etc.), your favorite songs from the radio, or even make up songs. Listening to music in the car or around the house is another way for children to learn new words and sounds.  

It is important that parents feel empowered in this role as their child’s first and best teacher. Early literacy librarians and Reach Out and Read medical providers want parents to know they already have the power to make a difference in their child’s life. We are here to provide extra support and guidance to assist parents as they help their children achieve their full potential.

Wisconsin Medical Society provides books and grants to Reach Out and Read Wisconsin

ROR project manager Karin Mahony and Wisconsin Medical Society stand with books that were donated in 2017

Since the founding of Reach Out and Read (ROR) Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Medical Society (WMS) has graciously donated hundreds of new books and has provided funding to ROR Wisconsin to make our work possible. WMS is a policy leader and professional development resource for physicians across the state. They are a unified voice for physicians and their mission is to improve the health of people in Wisconsin. Through their grants and book drives to ROR Wisconsin, WMS is advancing its mission by helping to improve the lives of children and families across the state.

With grant funds provided by WMS, ROR clinics have been able to purchase 17,800 new books. These books are given to grateful children across the state during their well-child exams. ROR providers use these books in their exam rooms as tools to measure developmental milestones. This makes the visits more efficient and fun. At the end of the visit, each child 6 months – 5 years leaves the clinic with a new book in hand. Families are encouraged to read every day and enjoy these books over and over again.

Additionally, for the past two years, WMS staff has hosted a book drive to purchase and collect new books that are given to ROR Wisconsin. Since 2017, 275 books have been donated. Most of these books are purchased by WMS staff at Books4School, a local Madison retailer with books for children of all ages. Books4School is open to the public and has books for as low as $1.00!

With the support from WMS, our work is able to continue. We are able to train more providers, launch more programs, assist in maintaining high-quality programs and provide books for children across the state.  We are grateful for WMS’s mission and the generosity they’ve shown ROR Wisconsin!

ROR project manager Karin Mahony and Wisconsin Medical Society stand with books that were donated in 2017
ROR Wisconsin Project Manager Karin Mahony with WMS staff picking up the books donated by WMS.

There’s still time to support Reach Out and Read Wisconsin’s Advisory Council learning and fundraising event

Last weekend, Reach Out and Read (ROR) Wisconsin’s Advisory Council hosted a learning and fundraising event at 702WI, a creative space in Madison, Wisconsin. ROR Wisconsin donors and guests gathered to learn about the program’s impact on early literacy, clinical care and parent support. Together, they raised hundreds of dollars to keep ROR Wisconsin programming strong throughout the state.

ROR Wisconsin learning and fundraising event
ROR Wisconsin supporters gather to learn more about our work and how they can help

During the event, Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD, ROR Wisconsin medical director and Dennis Winters, MS, chief economist for the State of Wisconsin, gave a presentation about the link between high-quality, early interventions like ROR and future economic benefits to the community. For example, every dollar invested in early interventions yields a $7 return on investment to society (Heckman, 2012). Investing in early interventions have shared benefits across sectors. Not only is personal success impacted with better employment opportunities and improved health outcomes but communities as a whole see lower crime rates, less social intervention and higher civil contributions. The business community also sees long-term benefits with a more skilled workforce, higher worker productivity and less employee turnover. To learn more about ROR Wisconsin and our impact please visit our website.

Dipesh Navsaria presents at learning and fundraising event
Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD, ROR Wisconsin Medical Director presents to ROR Wisconsin supporters and donors

If you were unable to attend this event, you can still support ROR Wisconsin. Please click here to make a donation today. A gift of just $5 will help provide a local child with a new book and parental support.

Thank you to the in-kind donors who made this event possible: Mary Morgan for the event space, Johnson Public House for coffee and Madison Chocolate Company for chocolates and other treats. 

If you would like to receive an invitation to the next ROR Wisconsin event, please email Alex Rogers.

Heckman, J. J. (December 2012). Invest in early childhood development: Reduce deficits, strengthen the economy. Retrieved from: