Books without fear

September 12, 2005

WHAT A TREAT. Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library has started issuing cards especially for the under-6 crowd. First Card users can check out picture books, early-readers and other kids' stuff, helping them get pumped for big-kid school. Plus they get a little slack on the return policy - no late fees.

So, say mom or dad accidentally left Leo the Late Bloomer at Aunt Ginny's house for a month and you just got it back and who knows how much you owe on it. No problem, city librarians say, just bring it in and all's forgiven; the important thing is to keep listening to the stories, looking at the pictures and enjoying the reading.

That attitude is the latest real-world reaction to the growing body of evidence that a lot of important learning and habit-forming happens way before kindergarten. Helping parents make books and reading part of daily life from the start connects children to the adults who read to them and eventually to the schools, most of which prefer a standardized, text-based style of instruction. It also helps that the Pratt central library is now open Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays until 8 p.m. Starting Oct. 2, it will be open Sunday afternoons as well.

Of course, as with all childish things, the librarians' laissez-faire attitude on fines only lasts so long. Once children turn 6, they graduate to the standard child card, with its attendant responsibility for returning the books on time. Fines do max out at $3 for children's books - though if a child has a dozen out, that can still add up.

For the swing-set crowd, opening and enjoying the books is the main goal. The Pratt continues to smooth the way.

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