A Corpus Christi teacher and Pacific Palisades resident is going beyond the classroom to instill a love of reading in local kids; she’s started a personalized book-lending business for children from 1 to 7 years old.
BookTree, launched locally by Cynthia Ogle, will provide 10 selections each month from an in- house library of more than 2,000 picture book titles, stored in a tote bag to be retrieved from pick-up spots at schools or local retailers.
“I still believe in books,” said Ogle, a reading specialist who has spent most of her career teaching third, fourth and fifth graders to read.
All the kids at Corpus Christi use iPads at school. But Ogle was still dismayed when she handed a toddler at a coffee shop a book and the child tried to “swipe” it, as if it were an electronic tablet.
“I think there’s room for all of it,” she says, but BookTree “is sort of a reaction to all of the electronics.”
Ogle’s friend Kathy Balch started BookTree in San Francisco in 2005, out of frustration with not finding high-quality pic- ture books for her own small children. The service is now available through more than 100 schools and other organizations there.
Ogle, who focused on childhood literacy while working on her master’s degree in education, has chosen a well-rounded library of books for each age. Selections feature Newbery Medal winners, for example, and the mix deliberately excludes any Disney books or what Ogle considers “commercial” choices. Her standards are based on research, 14 years of teaching and discussions with experts, including librarians.
She handpicks books across a variety of themes for each tote, based solely on age and attention span, not gender. Ogle believes gender is irrelevant to the early childhood reading experience. “When it comes to good literature, it’s good literature,” she says, despite a commercial market that sometimes seems filled with only princes and princesses.
As kids get older, the “concepts get a bit more sophisticated, the vocabulary gets a bit more sophisticated.” So books for older children focus more on global issues and other cultures.
Ogle emphasizes that the service is not intended to replace libraries and independent book- stores. “I encourage parents to visit local libraries and find books that their kids love,” but she hopes that her service will help parents save time and money.
BookTree focuses on 1- to 7- year-olds because “that’s where literacy takes root,” Ogle says. She’s passionate about the importance of learning to love to read. “School is easier for the kid who comes in with a depth and breadth of vocabulary. It definitely pushes them ahead. And the vocabulary of children’s books is three times richer than parent-child conversation.”
“Parents buy books on a whim and kids look at them once,” she says. For $23.95 a month, BookTree allows families to see what titles their kids enjoy most before heading to the store. “When you can produce children who love books, you’ re helping the book industry
Ogle says the totes create a fun surprise for kids, generating excitement around reading with their parents. “It’s not under that homework umbrella, it’s family time.”
That time together is critical too. “Parents are the first educa- tors for their children,” says Ogle, and reading aloud helps develop a child’s patience, attention span and ability to listen. “It is only minute by minute, page by page, and day by day that these skills develop.”
Ogle has painstakingly laminated all of her books and cleans them upon return, so that sticky fingers won’t be an issue when the books are passed from child to child. She gets so excited flipping through them, it’s clear that this is a labor of love.
The tote also includes a feed- back form, so that Ogle can see what books the kids like the most and switch out books too often found in at-home libraries.
The first month of the service is free and parents can pay month- to-month, quitting and restarting the service whenever they want. “We want to make it really easy for people to use.”
Corpus Christi, Sunshine Pre-School, Palisades United Methodist Church Preschool and Palisades Montesorri Center plus Mount Olive Lutheran, First United Methodist Santa Monica and Beginnings Learning Center in Santa Monica are among the schools that are already participating in BookTree. Parents can also pick up and drop off book totes at Bentons The Sport Shop on Swarthmore and Cheryl Fudge on Montana.
Ogle is confident about the need for BookTree. “I mulled this over a lot before pouring my pennies into this on a teacher’s salary,” she says. But, “I’m going to do this no matter what. In my mind, it’s going to be a success no matter how many families take part in it.”
Interested parents can call (310) 422-6204 to sign up and work out details for pick-up and drop-off or go to BookTree.us.