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Tamara Chapman

Senior Managing Editor

New community series champions the rewards of reading to children

Feature News
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Marianne Richmond

From the day they make their debut in the delivery room to their first years of schooling, little ones benefit from spending time with a loving reader and a good book.

And the more opportunities they have to do so, the better — for their intellectual development, of course, but also for their emotional and social wellbeing.

That’s the philosophy behind a new lifelong learning series created and sponsored by the University of Denver Libraries and the Caring for YoU and Baby (CUB) clinic at the Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP).

“One of the [experiences] that can be so impactful and powerful for relationship building is reading together,” says Tracy Vozar, director of the CUB clinic and GSPP’s specialty in infant and early childhood mental health. “The lessons that can be learned through reading — and I mean life-changing lessons of trust and caring, empathy and imagination — can prompt parents and caregivers to tell young children additional stories, to tell what it was like for them to be a child. It’s a wonderful way to foster relationships and to set time aside just to be with one another.”

The new series kicks off on Monday, Oct. 14, at the Anderson Academic Commons with a storytelling appearance by renowned children’s writer Marianne Richmond. The event is free and open to the public, and Vozar hopes that members of the Denver community — preschoolers and kindergarteners, naturally, but also their teachers, parents, foster parents and various caregivers — will join Richmond for a romp through two of her books, “Hooray for You” and “Be Brave Little One.” In between readings, Richmond and Vozar will lead a chat about everything from what makes a great story to favorite characters.

Richmond was selected to kick off the series because the themes in her books foster health, wellness and rewarding relationships, Vozar says, noting that she first encountered the author’s works at Tulane University in New Orleans, where, post-Katrina, she worked with a team confronting the challenges facing children age 5 and younger.  

“We worked with the children, we worked with their biological parents, and we worked with their foster parents, providing a wealth of services at a time when they really had very little and were under a lot of stress. The children were undergoing huge transition,” Vozar recalls. 

Through it all, she adds, the children and their caregivers found solace and comfort in Richmond’s “I Love You So Much,” which reminded everyone that love endures through separations, loss and hardship.

The lifelong learning series — which will span two years and feature four different speakers — aims to put writers and early childhood experts in front of parents and the education and child-welfare communities. Richmond, for example, will visit young patients at Children’s Hospital, meet with GSPP students and stop at DU’s Fisher Early Learning Center for a reading. Future speakers may also visit community libraries and museums — places, Vozar says, that routinely offer programs for children and families.

Made possible by a gift from DU alumnus Taylor Kirkpatrick, president and CEO of Babson Farms Inc. and a member of GSPP’s advisory board, the series complements a push by the University Libraries and Anderson Academic Commons to connect with the city beyond campus.

“We look at this series as a way to welcome the entire community to our building and our collections,” says Michael Levine-Clark, dean of University Libraries. “One of the things we hope to share with everybody — even the tiniest tykes and toddlers — is a passion for books and reading.”   

Kirkpatrick’s gift also funds development of a sizable collection of children’s literature, to be housed at the Academic Commons. As Shannon Tharp, collections and content management librarian at the Academic Commons, notes, “It’s pretty rare for academic libraries to have a children’s collection.” 

Tharp has already begun assembling a team of on- and off-campus librarians and early childhood experts to help her shape the collection. “We are aiming at building a collection that is as inclusive as possible,” she says. “It’s incredibly powerful to know and feel that you belong in this world. We want to build a collection that affirms for young readers that they belong, and that they’re seen and heard. The collection will include topics that address racial diversity, sexuality, gender representation, disability, language, culture and class.”

A second and smaller collection, also funded by the Kirkpatrick gift, is destined for Denver’s Rose Andom Center, which serves families contending with domestic violence. CUB has opened a clinic at the center alongside the DU-affiliated Motherwise program for new and expecting moms.

Like its counterpart at the Academic Commons, the Rose Andom collection will feature books in Spanish and English. Parents and caregivers will be able to read them on-site while they wait for appointments or check them out to read at home.

Vozar believes this emphasis on children’s literature serves the public good in several ways. “[It’s] wonderful for children’s literacy, and it’s great for their learning and school readiness,” she says. “But there’s also something really magical and wonderful about a caregiver and a child sitting down, taking time, slowing things down, being one-on-one, and having the time and space to connect over a book.”  

Click here to learn more and to RSVP for the Marianne Richmond reading.