- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (AP) - Clementine Connolly spends most of her days reading. At the breakfast table, she reaches for her book much like an adult would reach for the morning newspaper. At night before going to sleep, she curls up in bed with another book. Yet, she’s not even 2 years old.

“I love books!” the 22-month-old toddler exclaimed.

Her mother confirmed that statement, explaining she reads the book as Clementine listens or Clementine identifies the words she knows.

“Books are her favorite toy,” Tabetha Connolly said.

Clementine, who turns 2 in June, is the first child to finish the Georgia Public Library System’s “1,000 Books B4 Kindergarten” program, which launched statewide Jan. 5. She is also one of the youngest participants.

Clementine and her mother logged 1,000 books in April. Most of the books Clementine has read are board books. Plus, she can read “lift-the-flap” books on her own. The rest Clementine and Tabetha read together.

“We’ve embraced it just because she loves it so much,” Tabetha said, noting she started writing down the number of books the two read. “We actually had to set a limit before bedtime to three books. Throughout the day, I don’t know how many books we read.”

Currently, the book program has 58 participants from the Gainesville branch of the Hall County Library System and 140 participants systemwide, said Adrianne Junius, director of youth services for the Gainesville branch. The children in the program range in age from birth to 5 years old.

“Clementine is the first child in the Hall County Library System to complete the program, and as far as I know the first child in the state,” Junius said.

The family found out about the program during a “story time” session at the Gainesville branch of the Hall County Library System. Tabetha and Clementine had attended the infant and toddler activity times when they realized Clementine had read far more than the 1,000 books required. Then Tabetha learned she and her daughter could participate in the program simply by continuing the daily reading.

“When we get up in the morning, we sit on the couch, and I have my coffee and she has her milk and we read,” Tabetha said.

The toddler knows what her favorites are and has even memorized Tabetha’s favorites. She will sometimes spend ages looking for the exact book she wants to read or tell her mom or dad which one to get off of the shelf.

“She will tell us things that she likes,” Tabetha said, adding her daughter has memorized some of her favorite books. “(So) she can finish the sentences.”

Clementine’s love of books was apparent at an early age.

“One of her first words was ‘book’ or some rendition of it,” said Levi Connolly, Clementine’s father.

Tabetha credits some of Clementine’s affinity for reading to her exposure to the words before she was born in 2013.

“I had read somewhere that reading to them when you’re pregnant helps them,” Tabetha said. “I got a copy of ‘Goodnight Moon’ and started reading it to her when I was pregnant.”

Even now, “Goodnight Moon” is one of Clementine’s favorites. She also enjoys “lift-the-flap” books and ones that allow her to respond to her parents’ questions.

“The goals of the B4 program are to set the foundations for literacy, to get the children ready to read, to get the children ready for kindergarten … and to get parents or caregivers to bond and spend that special time with their children, and make the library a part of the family,” Junius said.

Clementine still goes to story time at the library each week. When she first started attending, she was reserved and quiet, but Tabetha has noted a distinct change.

“She has come out of her shell a lot,” Tabetha said. “She knows the songs and gets up and dances.”

Reading has also made Clementine observant. She recognizes objects from books and associates words with them. She can also listen and respond to Tabetha and Levi’s conversations.

“She catches on to our sentences,” Tabetha said. “Books have helped her understand the conversations going on around her.”

The 1,000 Books program is funded through a federal grant for the next two years, but Junius said she hopes the program can continue indefinitely.

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Information from: The Times, https://www.gainesvilletimes.com

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