Speaking this morning at the Southwest Neighborhood Library, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen announced he will introduce a bill on Tuesday to create a new early literacy initiative in partnership with DC Public Libraries.


Books from Birth Speech – DC AAP President Dr. Lanre Falusi »
Books from Birth Speech – DC AAP Past President Dr. Robert Zarr »

“Less than half of third graders in the District score proficient or advanced in reading skills.  It is critical that the District confront the literacy and achievement gap at its starting point, well before it shows up in the classroom.  Books are direct building blocks for learning, but children must be exposed to them to use them,” said Allen.

Allen’s literacy initiative, “Books From Birth,” will mail a book to each child in the District every month from birth through age five, while also working to connect families with the full range of library resources and educational information, including adult literacy assistance and DCPL’s Sing, Talk, & Read early literacy program.


DC AAP President Dr. Lanre Falusi and Past President Dr. Robert Zarr spoke at the press conference and were joined by several local pediatricians (including Drs. Muriel Wolf, Helene Felman, Lauren Hittson, and Bahareh Ravandi) donning white coats to show pediatrician support of the new initiative.

Dr. Falusi remarked, “We pediatricians encourage parents to read, talk, sing, and play with their young children, starting from birth…. Kids in wealthier families hear – and therefore, learn – more words than their peers in lower income families.  In fact, this word gap grows so dramatically that, by age 4, kids in poorer families have heard 30 million fewer words than kids in wealthier families.  Hear fewer words, learn fewer words, and the word gap becomes the achievement gap.  But when parents have the tools – in this case, books – to teach their children, we unlock children’s potential.  This is actually rooted in years of science and data.  Healthy, curious, thriving children can then become productive, stable adults.  We know that adults with higher literacy tend to have better control of chronic illness and better overall health.”


With Books From Birth, DC would join a growing list of municipalities and programs nationally working to close the “word gap” by increasing young children’s access to books.  Dr. Robert Zarr, a pediatrician at Unity Health Care and past president of DC AAP, spoke about the critical role early childhood literacy efforts play in school readiness.  An advocate for the Reach Out & Read book distribution program, Zarr said, “Families served by Reach Out & Read are up to four times more likely to read aloud with their children.  Increasing children’s access to books and talking with parents about the importance of reading are scientifically proven ways to close the ‘word gap’ and improve early literacy outcomes.”

Allen will introduce the Books From Birth legislation on Tuesday at the Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting.