A handful of bright-eyed 3-year-olds got their first look Wednesday at hundreds of new books being donated to the Family Nurturing Center by Friends of the Medford Library.
Library staff and volunteers carted more than 580 books into the center, enough to fill 150 new, green, "Let's Read" bags that will go home with kids each week.
"To get literature in the home of preschool kids is one of the most important things we can do," said Mary-Curtis Gramley, director of the Family Nurturing Center, a relief nursery that serves high-risk families with young children.
Gramley said the center is filled with books already, but parents have loved the book-bag program, which began in November 2012.
The bags are given to kids so they can take books home each week and bring them back early the following week.
The books give parents a chance to sit down and bond with their children while reading, Gramley said.
"We know from research the importance of books," said Gramley. "It's an essential part of early education."
Children who aren't able to read by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school, Gramley said.
The books were purchased by Friends of the Medford Library, a nonprofit, volunteer organization that works to promote libraries and provide funds to library projects such as the book bags.
The organization's money is raised through member dues, donations and fundraisers, which means no county library funding was used for the bags.
"The books are such a huge contribution for so many reasons," said Gramley.
The books delivered Wednesday were given a first look by seven children in a morning toddler classroom at the Family Nurturing Center, and the youngsters quickly began picking through hardcover books on trains, puppies, babies and emotions.
"We tried for a variety," said Nancy Peterson, library outreach coordinator. "Some soothing ones, rhyming books, and those that would share concepts. There are a lot of books on emotion."
Peterson said some of the books use stories to help explain death and dying, divorce and other family obstacles. Including those books can help families start conversations on difficult topics.
"I think this opens the whole world of books to them," said Luann Lane, a care coordinator teacher at the Family Nurturing Center who supervises children at the center and makes home visits.
"I'm in the homes with families and can actually see the books being used," she said. "It provides an opportunity for parents to sit down with their children. And it's fun."
Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at email@example.com.