CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tucked in the back corner of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library system's Independence Regional branch sits a young girl, curled around a book reading aloud.
The girl, Hazel Suber, is confident as she reads "Mr. Pig and Sonny Too," a book about a bumbling pig she picked out for her very special reading buddy, Wilson.
While Wilson's the perfect blend of patience and kindness makes him a lovely library partner, he isn't what most would expect out of a reading buddy. He's a Boston Terrier and a big reason why Hazel reads so eloquently.
"Hundreds of children have come through to read with our dogs," said Independence Regional Library Children's Service Specialist Cindy Rhodes. "It's just a fantastic program and so enriching for these children."
Wilson is part of Paws to Read, a program designed to boost the literacy skills of children that may be self conscious reading aloud. The program offers a non-judgemental listener to read aloud to, a certified therapy dog.Thanks to the help of Rhodes, the Independence Library and entire Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library system has hosted dogs from the nationwide program in their libraries since 2013. In the last four years, the program is making a big difference.
"It has become a place where children can read in a non-stressful, non-threatening environment," Rhodes said. "The program really does help these children who feel self conscious reading aloud in the classroom and they feel they might get ridiculed by other students or maybe their teacher. This is an opportunity for them to come and read to someone, or something, that's not going to judge them, how they're reading, messing up words... just that they're enjoying what they're reading."At the Independence Regional Library, each child has 20 minutes to read to one of the five dogs with the option of receiving help from the pup's owner/Paws to Read volunteer.
"Some kids like or ask for help with words, some would rather kind of stumble through it and make it up," said Wilson's mom and Paws to Read volunteer Emily Thomas. "Whatever they want is fine with us. He (Wilson) is not going to correct them, so I think they're much more comfortable."And in an attempt to keep Wilson entertained, most children choose animal or dog themed books.
"They love choosing books that they think he will enjoy and I think that's precious," Thomas said. "He'll cuddle up to them, he'll lean up against them and they can pet him while they're reading and I think they forget about the time so they read for a longer period of time."Hazel has had five sessions with Wilson and he has quickly become her favorite reading partner.
"It kind of feels like I'm reading to my little brother," Hazel said. "He's my favorite because I always feel like he's listening to me."