Author Aims at Curbing the 30 Million Word Gap With New Book for Infants

Author Aims at Curbing the 30 Million Word Gap With New Book for Infants

by June 3, 2016

Chicago – At a time when parents are more concerned than ever about giving their children a competitive leg up, many children born into low income families are falling further behind. Dr. Mariana Glusman, pediatrician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, has devised a unique approach to the traditional picture book aimed at closing this gap. In the meantime her book will deliver welcome support and education to caregivers.

Glusman, who has worked at Lurie’s primary-care clinic in Chicago’s multicultural and underserved Uptown community for more than 20 years, conceived the book in response to research showing that by the time they reach four years old, children from underprivileged economic backgrounds demonstrate enormous differences in language development and kindergarten readiness (known as “the 30 million word gap”), which contribute to educational and professional delays and disadvantages all their lives.

“Kindergarten is too late to start to address the gap. Babies need to be sung, read, and talked to from the minute they’re born. It’s the most important thing caregivers can do to help their children succeed,” said Glusman. “Babies are not like sponges: they need to be active participants in their own learning, and they learn best when caregivers respond to and expand on their cues. So when a baby puts her hands in her mouth and her dad asks, ‘Are those fingers tasty? Are you hungry?’ He is not only teaching his baby about communication, he is also helping build lasting connections in her brain.”

Glusman’s I Love You Like Sunshine marries black-and-white portraits of parents and newborns and a large-font poem to get the family reading aloud from day one. The text teaches the caregiver effective ways to communicate with infants, and explains how reading, even to newborns, dramatically affects early brain development. Glusman, who is also medical director of the Illinois chapter of Reach Out and Read, a national program that brings literacy education into pediatric practice, enlisted her mother, retired pediatrician and photographer Marta Killner, MD, to contribute the striking black-and-white images–which babies can’t take their eyes off of.

And it’s not just low-income families who can benefit from Glusman’s book. Ever-present TVs, tablets, and phones significantly diminish the time children interact with adults. “Devices distract kids,” Glusman said. “But they don’t respond to babies’ cues, so they don’t help create the important pathways in their brains that people do–through conversation and play.”

I Love you Like Sunshine is available at Amazon and in bulk at reduced prices to hospitals and other nonprofits at Glusman is donating some proceeds to Reach Out and Read. Hospitals making the book available to newborns and their families. Lurie Children’s Office of Advocacy is also making the book available to families at the hospital’s outpatient primary care sites, and the Chicago Public Library has ordered enough copies to place in all of its branches.

Glusman graduated from Brown University, then went on to medical school at the University of Chicago. She did her pediatric residency training at Children’s Memorial, now Lurie Children’s.

Photographer Marta Killner spent 41 years practicing and teaching pediatrics in Mexico City, Boston, and Chicago.

Lurie Children’s is one of the top pediatric hospitals in the country according to USNews & World Report. It is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and one of only a handful of children’s hospitals in the U.S. with a dedicated pediatric research center, Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. Last year Lurie Children’s treated more than 174,000 patients. •

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