Kids' reading skills are going to the dogs. And I'm not referring to the 35 percent of college freshmen who need to take remedial reading courses before they can begin their studies. Nor am I using a figurative expression.
Last week I sat on the floor at the Mountain Park library with about a dozen kids while they read to a dog. Literally.
The dog in question happened to be a Boston bull named Gooch, who is one of the many canines who participate in the Doggie Tales program set up to help children enjoy and practice reading skills.
Atlanta TheraPaws, a member of Therapy Dogs International, Inc., trains these dogs to interact with people in various forms of therapy, or as Gooch's handler, Kelly Bryozowski puts it, "Sometimes just to make people happy."
Jack Memmer, a third-grader at Gwin Oaks Elementary School was the first to read to Gooch, who really seemed to lap up the book "Nothing" by Jan Agee. It was Jack's first experience with Doggie Tales. "It was fun. I really like dogs," Jack said.
His mother, Ann, was impressed with the experience.
"Jack needs encouragement to read," she said. "He likes the show "Wishbone," about a dog that takes you through classic literature. I saw this on the library Web site. He likes that show so much I thought reading to a dog would give him one more layer to show reading can be fun and not just a necessity."
Jack received a souvenir bookmark, documenting that he'd read to Gooch, while Gavin Lamb, a home-schooler, stepped up to add another bookmark to his collection.
"Gavin loves to read and he does it pretty much every time the dogs come out. He has a bunch of bookmarks," said his dad, Sam Lamb.
"I have four so far," Gavin noted.
Even Gavin's 2-year-old brother, Aiden, "read" to Gooch. Opening a picture book titled "Bow Bow" by Mark Newgarden, Aiden showed Gooch pictures of a dog building a sandwich, pointing to and naming each food as he went along.
If your kids or grandkids would like to bone up on their reading skills and have fun while doing it, they can join Doggie Tales on selected Saturday mornings at the Buford, Dacula, Grayson, Mountain Park and Suwanee libraries. You can find specific details at the Web site www.gwinnettpl.org.
And if you are going to the Gwinnett Reading Festival at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds this Saturday, which I hope you are, you can book some time with Gooch and some of his friends there. For more info, visit www.gwinnettreadingfestival.org
Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4