PORTLAND, Maine — Pediatrician Brian Youth said it’s often helpful to think of brain development in economic development terms.

“I describe this to families sometimes by saying that when babies are born, their brains are like Aroostook County. There are very few roads, not much connecting [things],” Youth said Friday morning. “By the time our kids are 2 years old, it’s like New York City, and reading to kids helps promote all those connections in the brain. So that’s one of the key reasons it’s important to read to kids from a very, very early age.”

Youth joined nurses, teachers, parents and children Friday morning at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center in Portland for an event by the group Raising Readers that urged parents to take up New Year’s resolutions encouraging reading in their families.

Those parents who braved the snowstorm still lingering over southern Maine to attend Friday morning’s event were asked to sign a board pledging to read aloud to their children often, be seen reading by their children regularly, take their children to libraries frequently and keep books in their diaper bags or cars for handy access.

The resolution push is the latest effort to promote early literacy by Raising Readers, a partnership funded by the Libra Foundation and supported by MaineHealth, the parent organization for Maine Medical Center, and the Brewer-based Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems

“Raising Readers has given out close to 2 million books to date,” Youth said. “[One to] every child born in the state of Maine over the last 10 years or so.”

The program offers free books to babies born in Maine hospitals and to children from birth to age 5 when they go to their pediatrician or family physician, Youth said.

Children’s hospital nurse Melanie Janosco was one of the first mothers to sign the pledge board Friday, and said her 4-year-old son now enjoys reading to her 6-month-old daughter. Abigail Snyder — an in-house teacher at the facility named for part-time Kennebunkport resident and elderly former First Lady Barbara Bush, who was hospitalized in Texas with a respiratory ailment Wednesday — read two books to the assembled children during the Friday event.

“I see this with patients, they say, ‘Why is it important to read to infants? Why is it important to read to a 4-month-old?’ It is incredibly important to read to a 4-month-old,” Youth said. “Ninety percent of the brain is developed by the time a child is 3 years old. In addition to that, there are about 700 neuron connections that are formed in the brain every second.”

Youth also said research suggests kindergartners arrive at school more ready to learn — and that their early reading scores are higher — if they had been read to regularly in the years prior to enrolling in school.

During the Friday morning event, children were given free books to take home.

“I can’t emphasize enough … how important it is to read to kids even at birth, 4 months, 6 months,” Youth said. “Just that interaction when you sit down and read to a child is so important for their love of learning and their success in life.”


Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.