Brayden Reid read from his big blue book of beginner stories in a soft voice, sitting cross-legged on the floor.
It was a story about dogs, which was appropriate, because his audience was an easy-going Golden Retriever named Madi, a therapy dog from St. John Ambulance, there with her handler, volunteer Beryl Watson.
As the seven-year-old Willowbrook boy progressed through the story, Madi stretched out, allowing Brayden to gently pet her as he continued.
It was “Paws 4 Stories” at the Langley City library branch, an opportunity for kids who might have a little trouble reading to spend a little time with a supportive listener.
Brayden’s mom Tracy was delighted.
“It’s amazing,” she enthused.
“He’s a new reader and very nervous about reading. He’s never read so long.”
Six kids were able to take turns sitting in a quiet room at the library and have some confidence-building time with Madi or Jaxson, a friendly Labrador Retriever who arrived with volunteer Elaine Hay.
Sunghan Lee, 11, came in from Surrey to read to Jaxson, who snuggled up close to hear a story that was, like Braydens’s, all about dogs.
Seora Choi from Brookswood enjoyed her session, though it seemed the seven-year-old was just as interested in petting Madi as she was in reading aloud.
That did not go unnoticed by Mom Emily, who suspected her daughter would like a big dog of her own.
“Looks like she’s getting along (with Madi),” Emily observed, as Seora smiled at her new friend.
Library manager Kimberly Constable said seeing kids come out of their shells to read out loud, to a reassuring, uncritical audience, was a moving experience for both the children, their parents and library staff who worked with the volunteers.
“It’s beautiful,” Constable commented.
“The idea of a dog being a comforting, nonjudgmental presence, it’s such a wonderful thing.
Encouraging children to read alongside a dog originated in the US in 1999 with the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) scheme.
It has been adopted by other countries, such as the United Kingdom, where it is known as the “Bark and Read” program.
In Canada, “Paws 4 Stories” is the trademarked free program from St. John Ambulance that employs therapy dogs with volunteers to promote improvement in a child’s reading skills.
One study by Tufts University in the U.S. found that young children who read aloud to dogs in an after-school program demonstrated improved attitudes about reading.