Students, professor lead effort to improve childhood literacy

Students at University of Detroit Mercy are making a difference in the lives of children all over the city thanks to RX for Reading – raising readers, one book at a time.

Developed by English professor Dr. Mary-Catherine Harrison, RX for Reading aims to strengthen early childhood literacy in Detroit.  

“It’s an absolutely essential project because the future of our city is dependent upon our next generation of leaders,” Harrison said. “The foundation of learning is reading. In math, science, stem fields, in business, every field, the most fundamental skill is reading.”

Low-income children are exposed to approximately 30 million fewer words than their average-income peers by the age of 5, according to statistics.

Over one million Michigan children live in a low-income household, and 61 percent of their families do not have any children’s books.

Further, experts say, only 19 percent of Michigan students are at a proficient reading level by the time they reach fourth grade.

“Income inequality is related to educational inequality,” Harrison said. “Every child should have books. Literacy is a human right.”

RX for Reading Detroit’s mission is “to expand access to high-quality children’s books and support families in reading with their children.”

As its first anniversary approaches on Sept. 24, Harrison is planning to launch a fundraising campaign. She also has a lot of exciting new accomplishments to tout.

In the last year, RX has donated over 15,000 books to kids and community partners, established 15 new RX for Reading libraries in low-income health and dental clinics, and partnered with local schools and Head Start programs to read with over 150 children.

Along with these huge accomplishments, Harrison is also being presented with the Bookwoman Award from the Detroit Chapter of Women’s National Book Association for all of her work and dedication to reading and the underprivileged children of Detroit.

RX for Reading is always looking for new and gently used, high-quality books to be donated, especially ones with diverse characters, so all students can relate to the stories they read.  

Every book is either put into a new library or given directly to children to take home and keep.

Students can participate in RX for Reading for service learning course hours, but many do so just to help and encourage the community to read regularly, she said.

Students of all majors help to sort books, build libraries in homeless shelters, doctors’ offices and classrooms, and take trips to schools to read to students.

Dr. Matt Mio’s father, John Mio, has volunteered to build book shelves and cases for the books that are kept in RX’s Little Free Libraries, which are planted in under-resourced areas of Detroit, such as parks, schools, and in neighborhoods that are known as “book deserts.” 

Anna Mindling is one of the many students who went to Emmanuel Head Start to read to students. She was nervous.

But “I love kids,” said Mindling. 

Mindling read the 12 3- to 5-year-olds two stories: “Doc McStuffins: The Mermaid Dives In” and “The Duckling Gets a Cookie.”

Though it was initially tough for her to get all of the children’s attention – between questions like “Can you tie my shoe?” and “Can I sit on your lap?” – Mindling eventually got all the kids to sit down and listen to each of the stories.

First, she read the Doc McStuffins book, which is based on a TV show for children.  

“I love Doc McStuffins!” one student said.  

“Can we read the other one first?” asked another.

Eventually, Mindling was able to finish both books with good participation from the children.

Then, the kids got very excited. They knew what was coming next.

Mindling grabbed the bag of over 30 books. Each child was allowed to choose one and keep it.

Traci was the first to be called to pick a book.

Tamyra was excited to get a Winnie the Pooh read-along book.

All of the children found a book that they liked enough to take home.

The hope is that they will read their new books with their parents and will be excited to get a new one every other Thursday.

“Our children love (UDM) students and the parents have shared that their children have been reading their new books so much, they can nearly ‘read’ them to their parents,” said Kim Olgetree, a teacher at Emmanuel Head Start. “I thank you so much. You have really made a difference here at Emmanuel.”

To learn more about RX for Reading and how to participate, please visit