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Hopedale - Local Town Pages

Hopedale ‘Champion Readers’ participate in ‘1000 Books Before Kindergarten’ program

Claire O’Leary poses with her “1000 Books Before Kindergarten Champion Reader” yard sign. She was the first Hopedale resident to complete the program. Courtesy photo

By Theresa Knapp
More than 80 Hopedale children are participating in the ‘1000 Books Before Kindergarten’ program through the Bancroft Memorial Library. 
“It’s self-paced, so they can start at any time,” explains Library Director Tricia Perry. “As they move forward, we have been adding to our ‘Reading Train’ in the program room downstairs. As the children complete 100 books, they add their name to the train car, and we create a special ‘Favorites’ booklist for each of the readers.” 
The intent of the program, according to, is “to promote reading to newborns, infants, and toddlers, and to encourage parent and child bonding through reading.” 
Added benefits, according to the families of Hopedale’s current champion readers, include fostering community, teaching social skills, enhancing family connections, building curiosity, and improving language, reading, and comprehension skills. 
Claire O’Leary, age 5, was the first to complete the program. 
Her mother Ally O’Leary said, “She did it at an insane speed; I think she started in March and finished in July [2023], all driven by her, we honestly couldn’t keep up with her. We stopped keeping track after meeting 1000 but she still consistently reads the same number she read each month as she did back then…When she finished the program, she earned a sign for our front yard, and was so excited for all of the cars who drove by.”
Among Claire’s favorite authors is Mo Willems, but most of the books she read revolved around what she was learning in preschool that week or what other families recommended. As part of the program, the library staff has created a display of family recommendations which can be helpful to program participants as well as other library patrons. 
Claire says she likes to read because, “It’s fun! I get to do it with my parents. Sometimes I read to my brother Henry.”
O’Leary said, “Participating in this program gave us some dedicated one-on-one time with Claire and something special just for her…It created an awesome little project just for Claire and it was something she could control and focus on and enjoy fun rewards.”
O’Leary praised the reading program for the life skills it has taught her daughter.  
“Claire learned most of her social skills by going to the library and participating in this program. For example, learning how to walk up to the desk and speak to the librarian in a polite way to request a book or announce she’s made it to another 100 milestone was huge for our naturally introverted child. She also learned about raffle tickets and what it means to lose, learning to be quiet in the right situations, and being respectful of books/other’s property, but also sharing in the excitement of other friends’ success and participation in the program as they also earned their 100 milestone markers. 
“We would often walk into the library and check where other friends were on the train/tracking board and if we saw them around town, we’d congratulate them. Most impactful, however, is Claire’s reading skills have soared – she’s moved on to chapter books and hasn’t looked back. She has an innate passion for reading and this program definitely helped us feed that passion (and it was free!).”
Saken Khokhar has been reading to her son Nathaniel, age 5, since before he was born. He has now read nearly 1200 books.
“I have been reading to him since in-utero. I have loved reading since I was a child myself,” said Khokhar. “He begs for extra books every night and loves going to the library where he is well-known.” 
Nathaniel was born at 25 weeks and had early intervention from the time he came home from the NICU at three months, speech therapy from ages two to four, and at 2.5 years, could only say ‘Mamma,’” said Khokhar. “I knew reading would help with speech development, so we joined the 1000 Books program in January 2023 and we completed it by December 2023. It has really helped his speech and he is now on par with other kids his age and no longer needs speech therapy.”
Nathaniel’s father Jimmy says his son’s passion for reading stems from Saken. “She reads a lot, and my son picked it up 1000% from my wife. I also enjoy reading to him now, which I was barely used to do.” 
Nathaniel said he likes books because he loves his mommy and reading stories, and his parents say his favorite books during the program were anything related to construction vehicles or farm animals. 
Emma Gruber, age 3, was 18 months old when her family started the 1000 Books program. 
Her mother Melissa Gruber says their experience with the program was great and, although Emma has surpassed 1000 books, she continues to read two to four books a day. 
“She loves to read and would get excited when she completed 100 books. She loved being able to write her name on the train when she completed 100 and loved getting her picture taken as well. Going to the library became a highlight of our weekend.” 
Gruber says Emma was an early reader. “She would reach out of her crib when she was little and bring books into it and read all morning.” 
During the reading program, some of Emma’s favorites became the “Fancy Nancy” books; “The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear”; the “Pete the Cat” series; and “The Storm Whale.” 
Her mother reports, “Emma says she loves to read because ‘it’s fun’ and ‘I learn new things.’” 
For more information on ‘1000 Books Before Kindergarten,’ stop by the library any time.