The First Lady’s Read20 Family Book Club

Encourages families to read together for 20 minutes every day

First Lady Crissy Haslam participated in Inglewood Elementary School’s Jumpstart Read for the Record Program

According to children’s author Emilie Buchwald, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam agrees. Haslam, a strong advocate for parental involvement in a child’s reading success, launched the Read20 Family Book Club last summer to highlight the importance of early literacy.

The book club encourages children and their families to read aloud for at least 20 minutes a day. One book is selected as Book of the Month, but families can read others, too.
Memphis Parent conducted a phone interview with Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam to find out more about this initiative.


MP: Thirty years ago, the U.S. Department of Education created its first Commission on Reading and its 1985 Becoming a Nation of Readers report indicated: “Reading aloud to children is the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading.” READ20 emphasizes reading aloud to your child. What inspired you to start the book club?

First Lady Haslam: I heard about the Read20 message in Chattanooga while we were visiting during the campaign. The message encourages families to read at least 20 minutes each day. I decided to take that message and spread it across the state of Tennessee.


MP: You introduced a three-part initiative which stresses the importance of Parents as First Teachers, Parents as Education Partners, and the importance of children reading on grade level by third grade. How is this club relevant to those initiatives?

First Lady Haslam: I chose to focus on parent engagement in education, and reading is one of the best activities parents can do with their children.  

Parents as First Teachers focuses on the early years up to kindergarten. I was surprised when I learned 80 percent of a child’s brain is formed by age 3. It’s important for parents to interact with their child beginning at birth to help mold their mind and reading 20 minutes a day can make an incredible impact.

Parents as Education Partners focuses on kindergarten through elementary school. School-age children spend on average 60 to 70 percent of their time outside the classroom, so it’s imperative families initiate and reinforce learning at home. Parents should know their child’s teachers. It is particularly important to know how well their child is doing in reading and to make sure he/she is reading every day.


MP: The Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation partnered with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to foster a love of reading among families of preschoolers. Why target elementary-aged children?

First Lady Haslam: The Imagination Library is a terrific program, but it ends when a child turns 5. Many children do not have books in their home to continue reading, and some parents do not know how important it is to read with their child every day throughout elementary school. The book club encourages families to use the state library system.

I tell parents, “Children learn to read through third grade, but after third grade, they are reading to learn.”

Only 46 percent of children in Tennessee are reading on grade level by the end of third grade. That means almost half of students are behind and teachers must work to catch them up. If you can make sure your children are reading on grade level, then those students will be able to move forward in school.  


MP: Since the launch of Read20 Family Book Club in June 2012, the reading list has included children’s favorites like E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden. How are titles selected?

First Lady Haslam: I work with representatives from the Tennessee Library System to choose books that are available throughout the state. We also try to feature books of different reading levels and styles of writing.


MP: What was your favorite book as a child?

First Lady Haslam: I often tell children I loved Winnie the Pooh. I had a little hardback copy … and I wore it out. The cover was tattered and falling apart after being read so many times.


MP: What are your thoughts on engaging the whole family in reading?

First Lady Haslam: Parents can set a great example for children by reading themselves. If a child sees their parent reading, for enjoyment or information, they’ll learn it’s important. Bedtime is a great time to read for 20 minutes. Take time to ask questions and be sure your child understands what he or she is reading.

Our children are grown now, but we read to them for many years while they were growing up and know what a valuable experience it was for all of us. In fact, for Bill and one of our daughters, reading was their special time together. They read books together even after elementary school and throughout high school. Of course, they chose books that were harder to read when she was older.


MP: How is the word spread about the book club?

First Lady Haslam: I visit schools all over the state to tell children about it. We’ve also gone to public libraries, military bases, county fairs, state parks, and museums throughout the state.

Parents can register as an official book club member and get ideas on reading activities, by visiting the book club website  We also encourage families to post about the book club on my facebook page, , or follow me on twitter @CrissyHaslam.


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