The most popular patrons at the Bothell Library can’t read, check out books or hold a library card. Instead, they help children build literacy and reading fluency in a safe, welcoming space. The therapy dogs of Reading With Rover, a nonprofit pet therapy organization started by longtime Bothell Library children’s librarian Mie-Mie Wu, are the heart of regular library reading times that allow children to read aloud to the trained animals.
Research shows that the presence of supportive animals reduces stressful reactions in humans, so Wu envisioned a program that would allow hesitant readers to experience reading aloud without stress, fear or judgment. When she started Reading With Rover in 2001, Wu didn’t have experience with therapy dogs, so she looked to a similar program at the Salt Lake City Public Library as a model.
Reading With Rover certifies volunteer therapy dog and handler teams, called D. R. E. A. M. teams (the acronym standing for Dogs for Reading, Education, Assistance and More), that offer pet therapy to the community in ways that extend beyond the library, Wu says. “Reading With Rover is a community-based literacy program working with schools, hospitals, hospice care and nine libraries throughout the Greater Seattle area.”
Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from the Reading With Rover program — the dogs enjoy the experience, too, says Reading With Rover volunteer Judith Bonifaci, a former teacher. “Dogs love the affection of children as they read books to them. It is definitely a win-win program for all.”
Wu, whose mother also was a librarian, loves helping emerging readers build confidence and learn to love reading. “Everyone has a story,” she says. “Reading aloud is a really powerful way for kids to express themselves and find their voice.”
Who is your personal hero or your most influential mentor?
Definitely teachers, and two teachers in particular: my first-grade teacher and my fifth-grade teacher.
What do you wish people understood about your work?
I think people still have an image of libraries as quiet, studious places, but they are really vibrant places with people coming together looking for resources and interaction. There’s a community element that makes the library thrive. And I am not a quiet person!
What’s one small action our readers can take in their own lives to make positive change happen?
Pay attention to the world around them and be ready to be engaged. It’s too easy to be in your own bubble.
What daily habit or small routine is most important to you?
It totally would be my morning walk.
What has been the most profound change in your work in the past 10 years?
For libraries, increasing access to technology has been huge. And it’s an incredible time for children’s books — not only the number of children’s books but the diversity of children’s books, the authors, the experiences being shared and the idea that it’s not just children reading children’s books.
What is your best advice for today’s parents who want to raise and support their kids to achieve big ambitions?
Kindness and civility always matter, and giving your all. I’m a basketball fan and have been inspired by Kobe Bryant’s work as someone known for his intense effort and trying to be his best.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Kid-me would say flying without hesitation, but as an adult, it would be the ability to affect the space-time continuum so that time management wouldn’t be an issue!
Favorite read of the past year?
“Sal and Gabi Break the Universe” by Carlos Hernandez
What book do you think every kid should read?
“Charlie Parker Played Be Bop” by Chris Raschka