In her ideal world, reading would be an infectious disease. Boston pediatrician Perri Klass says she wants to see Utah kids addicted to books - and she is doing everything she can to have reading come as easily to children as the chicken pox.

Starting in July, doctors at Primary Children's Medical Center will prescribe books to young children when kids come in to get their required immunizations. Medical center staff invited Klass, medical director at Reach Out and Read, to help them encourage parents to read to babies and young children.As they wait for their immunizations, children going to the clinic will soon be able to listen to volunteers in the waiting room reading aloud from colorful books. Then when they go in to get their shots, kids will receive a book from the pediatrician that has been matched to their age group.

Even 6-month-old babies, without a clue about printed words, will receive a book, with hardy, chunky pages that can withstand chewing.

"At six months, children can respond," Klass said in a lecture last month. "They can use their whole hand to turn pages. . . . They can chew on books, sit up, keep their head up, and reach and grasp."

Klass said babies need to see books and need to see people handling books.

As pediatricians check the children for their development, they will counsel parents with tips on reading aloud to their children. By the time that children reach kindergarten, Klass said, they will have a collection of 10 books from their regular immunization visits to the doctor.

"Reading doesn't begin with learning letters but by figuring out what language is, by the kind of contact children have with books," Klass said. "In no way does (parental reading) have to be a goal-oriented activity," she added. "We just want kids to know that books are fun and that we can be guided by them."

Klass noted:

- Picture books teach babies about sequence and the permanence of pictures.

- As children become toddlers, they find books about familiar things interesting. A story about a trip to the grocery store is "unspeakably fascinating."

- Children reach a developmental point where they want to read the same book over and over, a strengthening of their literary muscles.

- At 18 months to two years, children will be able to finish sentences when reading aloud, in part because they have heard a passage over and over.

- At 2 years, children like more complicated, longer books, such as Dr. Seuss books, which feature rhymes and counting.

The program will be funded by the medical center and Reach Out and Read, based at Boston City Hospital. The medical center also seeks individuals who will donate children's books for the program, said Carrie Byington, medical director of the program at Primary Children's.

Individuals wanting to donate extra children's books, especially books in other languages, can contact the medical center director of volunteers at 801-588-2000.


Additional Information

Tips to raise a child's interest in reading books

Reading is all about letting children into another world, says Perri Klass, director of Reach Out and Read.

Here are some Reach Out and Read tips to help parents "raise a reader":

- Talk about the pictures. You don't have to read a book to tell a story.

- Let your child turn the pages.

- Show your child the cover page. Explain the story.

- Show your child the words. Run your finger along the words as you read them.

- Make the story come alive. Make up voices, or use your body to tell the story.

- Ask questions about the story: "What's going to happen next?" or "What's that?"

- Let your child tell the story. Children as young as 3 years old can memorize a whole story.

- A few minutes of reading time is OK. Young children can only sit for a few minutes, but as they grow, they will sit longer.