When little Prince Nubine goes to sleep at night, he takes his brand new copy of "The Little Engine That Could" to bed with him. That's after going through the colorful pages a few more times, just for fun.
Since his mother started reading the book to him, Prince, who will be 2 years old at the end of the month, now recognizes trains and imitates their whistle, she said.
"He likes it," said Nancy Guilbert. "I read it to him every night."
The book is just the first of many for Prince, who, with his mom, are among the first to participate in a new program that delivers free books directly into the home for eligible children from birth to 5 years of age. The program gives them ready access to their own home library and a chance to develop literacy skills and a love of reading right from birth.
Launched last month by Read to Succeed Buffalo, with help from the Rotary Club of Buffalo and the Literacy Coalition, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library is targeted to children in the 14215 ZIP code area on Buffalo's East Side.
Anne Ryan, executive director of Read to Succeed Buffalo, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing early childhood literacy, said the program is going incredibly well.
"We already have 250 children registered," she said. "We'd hoped to have 500 for the whole year."
Armed with a$60,000 donation from the Rotary Club, the Buffalo agency was able to bring the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to families with children 5 and younger.
"I'm very excited about the quality of the books being provided," Ryan said.
She said more than 50 community agencies are helping to make the program a success.
"It's the ultimate collaboration," she said.
Research has shown that children who grow up with books in their homes typically reach higher education levels. But for some families struggling to make ends meet through difficult economic times, books at home can be a luxury.
Ryan said that in addition to strengthening the parent-child relationship, reading aloud to young children is a critical building block in their development, enhancing their vocabulary and building the skills they need to come to school ready to learn.
Guilbert heard of the program through her son's day care provider and was quickly hooked on the program.
"I do believe that reading is essential for kids," she said. "It's like a survival kit for life."
She herself had a hard time with reading while growing up.
"I struggled with reading, and I don't want them to go through the same thing, so I encourage my kids to read as much as they can," said Guilbert, who also has a school-age daughter.
She encourages other parents who qualify to get involved.
"It will help their children to increase their vocabulary skills and help them succeed in life," she said.
The only downside to the project, Ryan said, is that not all children are eligible. For those children, the Buffalo&Erie County Public Library has ordered extra copies of the books selected each month, and she encourages parents to visit the library.