Kids get a read on red dog

As Clifford the Big Red Dog roamed Columbus Elementary School on Tuesday, waving to students and showing his love of books, he was greeted by throngs of excited children who couldn’t wait to shake his paw, give him a hug or ask him a question.

Clifford — the star of a series of popular children’s books — was at the school to distribute free books and encourage students to read.

Having a storybook character like Clifford come to the school brings books to life for the kids, Principal Beatriz Bautista said.

“It just gets them more in love with reading,” Bautista said.

Reading Is Fundamental of Southern California, a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote literacy by allowing children to pick out free books that are to be used just for pleasure reading, provided the books and Clifford costume.

The books the organization distributes are not to be used for school projects like book reports, and are to be taken home to build students’ personal book collections, said Suzanne Coscarelli, a site coordinator for Reading is Fundamental.

“This is strictly for their enjoyment,” Coscarelli said.

Reading is Fundamental of Southern California distributes books three times a year to the Title I schools it partners with, and tries to create memorable events around books, like the appearance of storybook characters like Clifford, she said.

Students in each kindergarten through third-grade class at Columbus took turns sifting through the books on display in the school’s auditorium on Tuesday, and each child walked away with a book as Clifford looked on, nodding and waving. Then Clifford posed for class photos with the smiling students.

Their new reading materials in hand, the students peppered the Big Red Dog with questions.

“Clifford, do you like reading books?” asked kindergartner Anastasia Minn.

Clifford nodded his head “yes.”

For some of the students, the books given out by Reading Is Fundamental may be the only ones they have at home, said Nora Doctorian, a teacher specialist at the school.

Tuesday’s book-distribution event also corresponded with the National Education Assn.’s Read Across America campaign, a literacy initiative being celebrated this week across the Glendale Unified School District and the country, Doctorian said. On Thursday, guest readers from the community will visit Columbus to share books with students.

“The key is to have them read books they love on their own,” Doctorian said.

 ANGELA HOKANSON covers education. She may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at

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