Building up excitement for the release of Peter Jackson’s film The Hobbit this December, a group of Forest Park parent/volunteers will read chapters of the J.R.R. Tolkien classic aloud at the library every Thursday afternoon, starting tomorrow at 4 p.m. They’ll finish the book the week before the movie debuts in December.

“I saw the trailers for the movie and I had just finished reading the book to my 7-year-old daughter,” said Frank Hansen. “Ordinary adults can read aloud to their kids. Even if the kids are older and able to read, it still makes sense, especially if stuff is a little more challenging.”

Forest Park Library Youth Services Director Susan Kunkle was all too happy to make the program work for the volunteers. “I’m so appreciative of the idea and I’m glad we have a chance to collaborate,” she said.

Hansen says he’s looking forward himself to listening to the story of Bilbo Baggins and his quest to steal a dragon’s treasure with a handy little magic ring he picks up deep inside a mountain.

It’s all part of bringing programming the community asks for, said Kunkle.

“There’s almost nothing I like better than reading aloud – to anyone, whatever age they are. I will always look for opportunities to do more of this.”

A tool for literacy

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents,” said Emilie Buchwald, author and co-founder of Milkweed Publishing House. And children become better readers when they read to younger children, said Forest Park Library Youth Services Director Susan Kunkle.

And when they read to dogs.

“[Reading to a dog] gives struggling and beginning readers a chance to practice their reading to a friendly and non-judgmental [and furry!] audience,” Kunkle said.

The library hosts several read-aloud programs that focus on literacy since the time spent reading on parents’ laps is being crowded out by video games and television screens.

“We have to focus on starting things in the home first – promoting families reading together. It makes such a difference,” she said.

The library will host a Read to Dogs literacy program in September where kids can sign up to read to therapy dogs, she said.

But that’s just one of the many programs the library has in place.

So far, Kunkle said their most successful read-aloud program is the “Junie B. Jones” reading group, named after the charmingly pugnacious first-grader and the books authored by Barbara Park. The group meets the last Sunday of the month (starting in September). Kunkle said younger kids come to hear the stories, but older children, who may be struggling to read more complicated books, come too – to read to the younger ones.

“We’re seeing a lot of kids who are struggling a bit with reading at [grade] level. The biggest way to get that kick-started is through reading practice,” she said.

“Junie B. has helped that a lot because kids who are struggling can feel kind of self-conscious about reading aloud with their peers. They like to be in the position of modeling behavior for the younger kids and having the chance to be the leader for a change.”

“We intended the group for kindergarteners through second-graders, but we’ve gotten a lot of response for it from older kids,” Kunkle said. The library hosts a one-on-one reading practice with volunteers and an older reading group as well.

And for pre-readers, the library has lap-sit storytime four days a week. The library will also host what will become a quarterly Neighborhood Baby Shower on Aug. 25 for the youngest infants – to get baby books into the hands of expecting and new mothers and fathers.

“We’ve got some big plans for the fall, rolling out programs that will start at this really most fundamental level,” she said.

In addition to The Hobbit reading series that starts Thursday, the library hosts a Teen Red monthly girls book group, a graphic novel club and a “Kids Book Club with Pizza” the last Wednesday of the month. September’s pick will be The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.

“We’re looking at two sides of the same coin in a way: adults modeling reading and kids being empowered to read themselves – to build confidence that will motivate them to do more reading on their own,” Kunkle said.

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...