CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Taylor Hug loves to read.
So when the first-grader has a chance to read to Sally Sue, the literacy dog at Kenwood Elementary School, it's a special treat.
Taylor recently came home talking about the book she chose after reading to Principal Lisa Geren's dog — a Bichon Frise that Geren rescued from a puppy mill. Taylor was so excited that she decided to collect books for other kids who read to Sally Sue.
At her recent birthday party, Taylor asked friends to bring a book instead of a gift.
As a result, she donated 26 books and $30 to Geren, who gives each child who reads to Sally Sue a book to keep.
To earn the privilege to read to Sally Sue, a student must fill his or her book log with 15 books. The log is a list of books he or she has read at home, complete with a parent's initials.
Students read the 16th book to Sally Sue. They can do so in a bean bag chair under Geren's desk, where Sally Sue lounges in a red plaid dog bed.
Students bring with them a book box from their classrooms to read to the dog. But after they're done, they choose one from a brimming wicker basket to keep. Inside, they can write their names on a bookplate that includes a photo of Sally Sue.
Geren said any student who doesn't want to be near Sally Sue can opt out. Sally Sue stays in Geren's office, nowhere else in the school. Geren said she's yet to have someone say they don't want to participate.
Taylor, who is usually quiet at school, said she likes to read to Sally Sue because she's a good listener. She doesn't have a dog at home ("But I want one," she reminds her mom, Kathy Hug), so she enjoys spending time with Sally Sue.
Kathy Hug said the idea came about when the family knew Taylor's birthday was approaching, and she started asking her daughter what organization she wanted to support for her birthday.
Last year, Taylor Hug asked for items to be donated to the Crisis Nursery in Urbana. The Hugs got that idea after attending a birthday party that benefited the Champaign County Humane Society.
Kathy Hug said she especially liked collecting books for Kenwood because it wasn't much of an extra expense for parents who might be under financial pressure with the approaching holidays. The school accepts new or used books.
"They could still be a part of the party and not feel like it hurt their pocketbook," Kathy Hug said.
And the new 7-year-old didn't mind, Taylor Hug said.
"I usually get some presents for Christmas," she said, and family members also give her plenty of birthday gifts.
One special birthday gift she kept: a 38-book set of the "Magic Treehouse" chapter book series.
Kathy Hug and her husband, Casey, try to teach Taylor, an only child, about giving. Outgrown clothes go to cousins and Taylor's old toys get donated to her former day care.
Kathy Hug said she knows the books are a special gift for Taylor's schoolmates — she spent some time reading one-on-one last year with some kids in Taylor's class, and they still remember her.
"You can see what a book can do to a kid," Kathy Hug said.
Information from: The News-Gazette, http://www.news-gazette.com