The Stewart family readily admits that reading is just part of their routine. Like packing their lunches for the next day or placing their backpacks by the door, the Stewart girls know that they can count on choosing a book to read with their parents before bedtime. Ebonye Stewart shared that these brief times of connection is particularly helpful to her as she raises her oldest daughter, Brianna. “Reading is a time when we are actually able to sit down for a few minutes and bond as a family,” she explained.
“If I know something is on her mind, I will let her pick out a book and as we read the story, I can ask her questions which segue into learning about what she might be thinking.”
Brianna, a third grader, is a voracious reader. She described why reading early in life has been beneficial as she continues to grow and learn. “It was important for me to read early because it prepared me for school and chapter books and homework. I read for twenty minutes before I go to bed and it is part of my routine,” she remarked.
Ebonye attributed her daughter’s love of books and academic success to reading with Brianna beginning at birth. This routine was supported as Brianna received monthly books
from Porter-Leath’s Books from Birth Program.
Brianna said that it was special to receive the various books that were addressed to her. She now reads with her younger sister, Bailey. She points out pictures and shapes just as Ebonye did with her, and helps Bailey sound out unfamiliar words. Brianna even shares some of her favorite books from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, including The Mine-o-saur and Madeline, which in her words, “gives a valuable lesson that sharing is caring.”
Ebonye has seen first hand as both her daughters continue to evolve into strong readers and students. In fact, one of her proudest parent memories was a few years ago when Brianna read and tracked her reading time all summer. At the end of the summer, Brianna had read for so many hours that she was invited to a special children’s reception in Nashville to meet the former Governor and Mrs. Haslam in their home. Ebonye’s advice to parents of young readers would be to figure out a topic your child loves and find a book about it. She added, “Reading is everything! If it is science, if it is math, whatever the subject is you can find a book that interest your children and that will really help them grow.”
Now, Brianna sets goals for herself using her school’s Accelerated Reader program. She challenges herself with longer chapter books and multi-book series. While the Stewart family continues their tradition of reading before bed, they also make time to give back to the Books from Birth Program with their time and financial gifts. “There are a lot of great organizations in Memphis, but this particular one is just so important,” Ebonye stressed. “The ability for children to have access to early literacy tools … can help them increase vocabulary, reading comprehension and if you can read, you can make it through a lot of things.” Indeed, reading can take you far in life. In fact, it just may take you to the Governor’s mansion one day!