An Interview with Raising Readers’ Clinical Advisor, Dr. Colette Sabbagh

As both a mom and a physician, Dr. Colette Sabbagh is an energetic champion of early literacy. A pediatrician for over 20 years, Dr. Sabbagh has participated in Raising Readers since the beginning of the program and has distributed thousands of books to her patients at EMMC Pediatric Medicine in Bangor, Maine. She is also a Clinical Advisor for Raising Readers and participates on the Book Advisory Committee that reviews and selects the books to be distributed each year.

Dr. Sabbagh recently shared her perspective on how providers play an important role in promoting literacy as well as some of her favorite Raising Readers selections.

Tell us about how you incorporate Raising Readers as part of well child visits.

I use the books differently depending on the age of the child. For younger children, I introduce the book as part of the examination because it tells me a lot about their development. For example, do they look at the book? Do they reach for it? Can they hold the book by themselves? Can they turn the pages? All these things contribute to my assessment of the child and his or her development.

For older children, I may use the book to alleviate anxiety if they are nervous. It’s a great way to show them I’m friendly. The book can also be a great distraction for a child who has trouble waiting while their parent talks to me. Giving my patients their Raising Readers book is always a positive part of the visit.

Why do you feel it is important for medical providers to promote early literacy?

We are a consistent person in a child’s life, and are in a great position to educate our patients and their families. If the provider emphasizes reading as a priority, parents and caregivers are more likely to see it as important too. We can also increase awareness that literacy starts long before a child even says a single word.

Do you have a favorite Raising Readers book?

I have been involved with this program since the very beginning so it is hard to pick one favorite! Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell was a 15 month book in the early years of Raising Readers when my own daughter was receiving books.  Her copy got so worn out I had to replace it! It has flaps that children lift to reveal the story and it promotes interaction.  It also has some suspense in waiting for the ending.

A favorite for older children is Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae. I like to point out the dancing giraffe on the cover and how silly that is. It never fails to bring a smile!

What one piece of advice about building good reading habits would you share with parents and caregivers of young children?

Make a habit of reading every day, either together or separately, and demonstrate reading to your children. They learn what is important from their parents.

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