Booksellers may want to listen up. First Lady Laura Bush is the headliner for a new children's radio program meant to encourage reading. Titled Reading Together with Laura Bush, the weekly show will run approximately 15 minutes and will air during the Playschool Disney programming block on Radio Disney, which reaches 51 major markets nationwide.
Reading Together makes its debut this week as part of the build-up for the second annual National Book Festival to be held in Washington, D.C., on October 12, also hosted by Mrs. Bush and sponsored by the Library of Congress.
The radio program is co-sponsored by Children's Literacy Initiative and DisneyHand, a charitable segment of the Walt Disney Company's Worldwide Outreach division. CLI will select titles for use on the show, choosing books appropriate for children from preschool to age eight. Each episode of Reading Together will feature either Mrs. Bush reading aloud from a book or a celebrity reader or author to be introduced by Bush. She has already recorded her reading of Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, 1996) for use on a forthcoming show and has also lent her voice to a list of 10 Reading Together tips (e.g., "Snuggle! Make reading and relaxing together in a quiet, comfortable place part of your daily routine") that will play on Radio Disney in various promotional spots.
The Reading Together program launch consists of 10 episodes, though Kathy Franklin, director of Disney Worldwide Outreach, said that if the show proves successful, additional episodes may be produced.
Reading Together with Laura Bush is an extension of a larger Reading Together initiative launched earlier this year by the Walt Disney Company. Under the Reading Together umbrella, Disney aims to help parents and caregivers learn more about reading with children "in ways that are fun and engaging." Part of this effort includes a donation of one million books to the nonprofit organization First Book.
As a former elementary school teacher and librarian with a long-standing commitment to literacy causes (including her own national initiative, Ready to Read, Ready to Learn), Mrs. Bush is a natural fit for the new radio show. She follows in the footsteps of her mother-in-law, former first lady Barbara Bush, who hosted Mrs. Bush's Story Time on ABC Radio from 1990 to 1994 (ABC merged with the Walt Disney Company in 1996). That original program was coproduced by CLI and ABC Radio and was the inspiration for current ABC Radio staffers' suggestion to revive the format.
Publishers interested in submitting books for consideration for use on the radio show may obtain more information from Ann Y. Katz, special projects consultant, Children's Literacy Initiative, Akatz@cliontheweb.org. Submitted books should be age appropriate (preschool to eight) and feature strong story lines that will work well as a radio read-aloud. Genres include humor, folktales, fairy tales and award winners. Suitable excerpts from, or abridgements of, biographies and chapter books will also be considered.