Events like a recent read aloud with NBA All-Star Dwyane Wade and actor Gabrielle Union-Wade have helped boost the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago’s early literacy program “I Am a Reader.”

In partnership with Bitsys, an organic snack company, Club members at Martin Luther King, Jr. Club, Pedersen-McCormick Club and Valentine Club received copies of the Wades’ new children’s book, “Shady Baby.” In addition to the book and healthy snacks, the Wades performed a virtual read-aloud of their book, inspired by their young daughter Kaavia. 

Special experiences like the Wade read-along help inspire kids to open a book and get reading. It also helps put a physical book in their hands. A 2014 study found students retained more information from physical books rather than e-readers, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago Early Literacy Specialist, Nuala McSweeney, couldn’t agree more. 

“The last year has been full of challenges, but I was fortunate to be able to get face-to-face time with youth through weekly read-aloud sessions,” McSweeney said. “I focused on finding books that had a connection to an area of social-emotional learning, as that been shown to improve learning retention. And making sure the student had the physical book in-hand was crucial to that retention.” 

Through “I Am a Reader,” the program has found creative solutions to ensure students continue to grow and develop, and have the opportunity to consume as many books as possible.  

In partnership with the Chicago Public Library Foundation Readathon, Club members have been meeting weekly this month with McSweeney to track their reading progress and compete with other kids in the city for prizes for the most books read. In addition to tracking, the meetings also allow the chance for the Club members to talk about the books with other Club members from around the city and recommend new ones for the next week. 

“I love when we meet virtually to discuss books. It gives me a chance to see the passion come out of some of these students when they talk about the books we read,” McSweeney said. “One Club member, Jacob, is so competitive and enthusiastic. You can tell reading  is so special to him. It really shows us how important reading is to our kids.” 

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