Librarian makes the start of kindergarten special for Moorestown’s youngest readers

Jennifer Dunne paid a personal visit to every Moorestown youngster who read 1,000 books before kindergarten.

Jennifer Dunne, principal librarian for Children’s Services at the Moorestown Library, donned her book-themed mask on Sept. 2 and made her way to the Williams household to deliver Frances Williams a gift before her first day of kindergarten.

Williams had dressed for the occasion as well. She paired her multi-colored pastel tutu with a mask as she eagerly waited by the front door to greet Dunne. This was the first of several stops on Tuesday for Dunne, who paid a visit to every child’s home who completed the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten challenge.

Since 2015, the Moorestown Library has participated in the nationwide 1,000 Before Kindergarten initiative. The program was funded through Sean Fischel Connect, and the idea is to expose children to as many books and reading experiences as possible before they start kindergarten. 

Parents or guardians can sign their children up at any age just as long as the child hasn’t started kindergarten yet. The premise is a simple one: parents or guardians write down all of the books that have been read to the child or the child has read on their own. Story times and repeat listenings of the same book still count on the log. The overarching goal is to get young children comfortable with text and how books work.

Along the way, children receive prizes when they hit various reading milestones. They simply come to the library and show their log. Dunne said the library’s goal in rewarding young readers is to keep them motivated and encouraged along their reading journey.

She said parents are eager to sign their children up because the challenge offers them a little extra motivation to keep their young ones reading. Dunne said parents see the benefits and some have even made the program something of a family tradition.

Ordinarily, the program culminates with a party for the children and their parents at the library just before the first day of school. There’s pizza, cakes and balloons, and students receive a certificate congratulating them on completing the challenge.

While the library couldn’t host the annual gathering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dunne decided she didn’t want children to miss out on being recognized for their accomplishment. So, she decided to congratulate them personally.

She made her way to each household with a bag that contained a 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten T-shirt, a kindergarten folder, a beginner reader book, a teddy bear, a gift card for pizza, a bag of M&Ms and a certificate. 

She said the students were excited to see her with some talking to her about the books they’d read, others informing her of their kindergarten teacher and a few even introducing her to their pets. 

Dunne said while so much has changed for students who are entering kindergarten this year, the philosophy behind 1,000 Books has not. She said for the youngest demographic, kindergarten can be a new and mysterious experience, but the initiative’s purpose has always been to help kids feel ready for the challenges ahead. 

“The message we wanted to communicate to the kids was you’re ready,” Dunne said. “I felt like this year, more than ever, that it was an important message to communicate because kindergarten is so different than what we told them it was going to be. Even though it’s different and we don’t  know exactly what to expect, you’ve got that. You’re prepared.”