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Animal ABCs

On a sunny Saturday morning in the middle of June, it is somewhat unexpected to see a large crowd of children willingly gathered at the local library. But that is exactly what was happening at White Branch Library in Syracuse. Young children gathered on the floor with their parents to experience a unique interaction between live zoo animals and children's books. When live snakes were presented to the children after the reading portion, their eyes lit up and they bubbled with excitement.

Animal ABCs, a year-long program of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo hosted at White Branch Library and the McChesney Community Center, is designed to capitalize on children's innate curiosity about animals and nature to generate excitement about reading. Each month features a fun animal theme and books are selected that highlight chosen creatures - from frogs to lizards to birds. A broad range of activities keep the children engaged including 'read-alouds,' crafts, animal artifacts and, whenever possible, a visit from a live animal.

The program is one of numerous beneficiaries of the Literacy Champion grants the Community Foundation provided to enhance the Imagination Library program on Syracuse's Northside.Imagination Library strives to build skills in young children for kindergarten readiness by delivering a new, age-appropriate book directly to each child's home once a month from birth to age five. The program is designed to establish a culture of literacy among its participants by increasing the frequency that parents read to their children and generating excitement about reading at home.

The Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County implemented Imagination Library within the Syracuse Northside Literacy Zone. New York State designated these zones, of which Syracuse has three, as areas where individuals hold limited literacy or English language proficiency. Response to the literacy programming has been tremendous. Having now completed its first year since launching in Syracuse, Imagination Library has more than 1,000 children enrolled and has distributed more than 9,500 books. Each month, Animal ABCs brings in so much interest that the rooms are often filled to capacity. By sparking the imaginations of young children, these programs are igniting a life-long love of reading among all involved.