If you are reading this editorial, there’s a good chance that your parents or other family members read to you as a child. Most adults who like to read regularly had the seed of interest planted at a tender age.

Not all youngsters are so fortunate. Some people simply don’t value reading or believe it will be taught in school and that’s good enough, but it’s really not.

Empirical evidence shows that reading books aloud to young children stirs their imaginations and expands their understanding of the world around them. The practice also helps them develop language and listening skills and prepares them to comprehend the written word.

The activity also is another way for parents, grandparents and older siblings to bond with little listeners.

According to the International Literacy Association, there are 781 million people in the world who are either illiterate (cannot read a single word) or functionally illiterate (with a basic or below basic ability to read). Some 126 million of them are young people. That comes out to 12% of the world’s population.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 21% of adults in the United States (about 43 million) fall into the illiterate/functionally illiterate category. Nearly two-thirds of fourth-graders read below grade level, and the same number graduate from high school still reading below grade level.

The NCES breaks the below-grade-level reading numbers out further: 35% are white, 34% Hispanic, 23% Black and 8% “other.” It’s not just a problem for English language learners. Non-U.S.-born adults make up 34% of the low literacy/illiterate U.S. population.

We could easily list numerous examples of how kids thrive when regularly exposed to books. We also know parents who are low-level readers who seek help in an effort to make sure their children are better off than they are in that regard.

Public libraries across the country are dedicated to promoting literacy and creating new generations of readers.

To that end, the Allegany County Library System is offering Story Time in the Park at different outdoor locations, with one planned June 24 from 10 to 11 a.m. at Canal Place, weather permitting. The library provided this description of the hourlong activity: “Grow your child’s early literacy skills with a fun-filled time of book reading, singing, rhyming, moving, and creating with one of our amazing program specialists!”

Story Time in the Park will be held every Tuesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. in alternating parks throughout the county. The activity is open to children of all ages. Families are encouraged to bring a blanket or lawn chairs and observe social distancing guidelines.

Every child attending will receive free books and crafts to take home.

These community outreach events staged by public libraries in the region are excellent opportunities. More information can be found online by searching by county.

Children to whom books are read usually become adults who enjoy reading — truly a gift that lasts a lifetime.

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