A best-selling children’s book called “The Rabbit Listened” shares a poignant message about the importance of empathy and presence in challenging times. The book, which was sent to Dr. Anya Kleinman’s son Jonah through the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library, inspired her and Dr. Julia Tanguay, who work together as pediatricians in the Akron and Mahoning Valley emergency departments, to create the ED Book Bank.
“A lot of our patients in the ED are dealing with emotional strife, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this book reinforces that as adults, we need to listen to and be present with our children,” said Dr. Tanguay.
The two physicians began to explore how they could offer “The Rabbit Listened” and other age-appropriate books to their patients. This led to the creation of the ED Book Bank, which since mid-February has been providing books to children ages 0-8 years who are treated in the Akron and Mahoning Valley EDs. The initiative recently celebrated its milestone of giving out 1,000 books.
“Parents are their children’s best teachers, and we know that exposure to early literacy helps with children’s social-emotional development and prepares them for school,” said Dr. Kleinman.
The two pediatricians piloted the project with the help of the emergency department’s child life specialists. They’ve since expanded it to include Akron Children’s pediatric residents who help distribute the books and educate parents about the importance of early childhood literacy. The ED Book Bank is now an official part of the residents’ advocacy curriculum, which is helping to shape a new generation of pediatricians to become champions for early literacy.
The Book Bank staff and all pediatric residents have a QR code on their ID badges to help families enroll in the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library, which provides monthly free books to children from birth to 5 years of age.
Books for the program have been obtained through ED staff donations, Akron Children’s Reach Out and Read program, the Kids’ Book Bank of Cleveland and corporate book drives. The ED accepts only new and like-new books since they’re intended to be cherished gifts for the children we serve.
“Books are expensive, especially for those with limited financial resources, and families often skip buying them to purchase more essential items,” said Dr. Kleinman. “Our biggest need in the ED Book Bank is for infant fabric and toddler board books.”
Books are also being given to siblings under the age of 8 through the ED Book Bank, so each child leaves the department with a book tailored to their age and interests.
“Because of the coaching and literacy training we provide to families, this is more than a book giveaway,” said Dr. Tanguay. “Hearing the advice from a doctor emphasizes the importance of ongoing, habitual reading for children with their caregivers.”
Too often parents misunderstand age-appropriate infant behavior and believe their children are too young to read books. Yet, as Dr. Kleinman points out, “There is no such thing as a baby or toddler too young to engage in literacy with their loved ones. That is one of the very important educational messages we are sharing with our families in the ED.”
You can support the ED Book Bank by texting 71777 or donating directly online.