Quills & Queues by Angela Decker-Howe: With sponsorship from the Friends of the Ashland Library, the hospital and library have started a new program for all babies born this year at ACH.

Ashland librarians are fond of saying it is never too early to encourage a love of books in children. When they say "never too early," they really mean it.

In addition to the library's many story times for kids and Babies in the Library programs, all designed to encourage literacy and the joys of reading, the library now has teamed with Ashland Community Hospital to get babies hooked on reading fresh out of the womb.

With sponsorship from the Friends of the Ashland Library, the hospital and library have started a new program for all babies born this year at ACH. As they leave the hospital, each new family will receive a Welcome Baby Bag. The bag contains two board books, "Peekaboo" and "Global Babies," a bilingual rhyme book, and a brochure from the American Library Association with tips on the importance of reading, rhymes and talking to new babies. Also included are information about Jackson County libraries, an application for a library card and a book list for babies and toddlers.

Margie Cicerrella, a children's librarian at the Ashland branch, said she is excited about the program.

"It's a wonderful gift for new families and a great way to encourage early literacy," she said.

The library offers story times for babies up to 12 months, for children age 12 to 24 months, and for children 24 months and older.

"We're very focused on literacy here, and the partnership with the hospital is great for everyone," said Cicerrella.

Lorraine Florio, director of the birth center at ACH, said so far parents are happy with the gift bag of books and brochures. "Reading is great for brain development, language development and so much more," she said. "Just the sound of a parent's voice as he or she reads to a baby is important. Families are excited to get the bags and we are happy to give such a great gift."

Both Cicerrella and Florio are pleased with the two books provided. "They are bright board books that are fun for parents to read and fun for babies to hold onto and gum," Florio said. "There is definitely more than one way to enjoy a book."

"Both books have pictures of babies and children in them. Babies really respond to faces," said Cicerrella.

The program started in early January and is scheduled to continue throughout the year.

"Literacy education should start as soon as possible," Cicerrella said.

The library offers several tips for inspiring lifelong reading habits in children.

Read to your baby often. Children who are read to at least three times a week do better in later development than those who are read to for less time. Recite nursery rhymes so that your baby hears words that rhyme and sing songs to help your baby hear syllables in words. Talk to your baby all the time. Children with larger vocabularies have been proven to be better readers. Make book sharing time a special time of bonding between you and your baby and make sure your baby sees that you enjoy reading. Children who enjoy being read to will want to learn how to read.

It's the book sharing time between parent and child that Florio said is extra special. "There's nothing like cuddling with your baby and reading a book. Babies love that closeness. It's good for everyone in so many ways," she said.

Cicerrella said she'd like the gift bag to encourage new families in the area to come to other library reading events. "We hope the gift bag encourages reading, but we also want it to be our way of saying, "welcome to the community," she said.

Tidings staff writer Vickie Aldous and freelance writer Angela Howe-Decker alternate as author of the weekly column Quills & Queues.