"When children read to animals, they gain confidence and a cuddly companion while the animals get some much-needed attention."

Published on: 06 May 2020

Phoebe and Boo might be completely different species, but they both have something in common - they're very shy and anxious. Boo Loves Books author Kaye Baillie explains how reading to a four-legged friend can help children overcome their fears.

An illustration from Boo Loves Books

Illustration: Tracie Grimwood

As a children’s author, I’m always looking for inspirational true stories to write about. Boo Loves Books published by New Frontier Publishing and illustrated by Tracie Grimwood is based on a news article about a Book Buddies program where primary school students read to homeless cats at the Animal Rescue League of Berks County, Pennsylvania. What captured my attention was the transformation of a boy who took part in the program.

The boy refused to read at school or home and when his mother tried to help him, he often threw a tantrum in frustration and called himself stupid. The boy’s grandmother knew the benefits of pet therapy through her involvement with Grey Muzzles where dogs are brought into homes of senior citizens. She knew the Book Buddies program would be a great chance for her grandson to practice his reading. She was right. It didn’t take long for the pet-loving boy to look forward to opening a book and reading to the cats. His report card improved by two grades and he successfully adopted three cats!

I thought this was a lovely story about the positive benefits for the children and the strays. In my book, everyone in Phoebe’s class loves reading. But Phoebe isn’t confident with words and is afraid of making a mistake. Then one day her class takes a trip to the local animal shelter where each child reads to a dog. Phoebe and her dog, Big Boo are both anxious but eventually they discover the benefits of being together. Children can tap into the story’s themes of anxiety, fear, feelings of inadequacy, tolerance, friendship, reading, books, sharing and kindness.

Animals do not judge or tell you if you’ve made a mistake. This is how children can gain the most confidence. During a pet therapy session, children should feel empowered like Phoebe. It is through using their own voices that a story is being read aloud and at the same time they are providing comfort and company to a lonely cat, dog or guinea pig! That is a powerful and magical achievement. It’s a win-win situation for the child, the animal and those who have struggled with trying to engage a child with books. I hope Boo Loves Books will encourage children who lack confidence in their reading skills, to read to an animal, just like the boy did who inspired this story.

 An illustration from Boo Loves Books and author Kaye Baillie

Illustration: Tracie Grimwood

Find out more about therapy animals at the charity Pets As Therapy or follow Kaye Baillie on Twitter.

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