FAIRFAX — Reading to Rainbow is all about having fun.
Rainbow, a massive, shaggy, black Newfoundland, is a reading dog. She and her owner, Nancy McKee, visit the Fairfax Community Library twice each month to read with first and second grade students.
On Thursday, McKee and Rainbow sat down with nine-year-old Alden Kalbfleisch to read “Geronimo Stilton: I’m too fond of my fur!” by Italian children’s author Edizioni Piemme.
McKee, the “reading assistant,” held the book for Kalbfleisch while he petted Rainbow and read out loud. Whenever Kalbfleisch stumbled over a word, McKee would take the opportunity to talk about it – such as pointing out the difference between “confidentially” and “confidently.”
“What did you do this afternoon with Rainbow?” McKee asked.
“Told a secret,” Kalbfleisch answered. That, McKee pointed out, was confidential – not confident – information.
At another point in the book, McKee let Kalbfleisch feel Rainbow’s shaved whiskers and look at her teeth to explain some of the terms used in “Geronimo” – a story about a talking mouse.
Kalbfleisch, while enjoying an inspection of Rainbow’s large canines, wanted to get back to business.
“Let’s continue reading,” he said.
McKee agreed. “Yes, let’s.”
At the end of his 15-minute session, Kalbfleisch described why he signed up to read with Rainbow.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “I get to pet a fuzzy dog while I’m reading.”
There are other incentives, too. During every tenth visit with Rainbow, readers get to choose a book to take home. Thursday happened to be Kalbfleisch’s tenth day, and he took home “Body,” a children’s anatomy book.
Following Kalbfleisch, another student read with Rainbow, eight-year-old Victoria Slocum. McKee held up “Bink & Gollie,” by Alison McGhee and Kate DiCamillo, from which Slocum read. All the while, Slocum hugged, petted and laid her head on Rainbow.
As McKee helps her students read, she uses Rainbow to talk about story words and ideas. When the word “extraordinary” came up in “Bink & Gollie,” for example, McKee was able to point to the dog lying next to her.
“I think Rainbow is amazing,” said McKee. “Do you think she’s extraordinary?”
“Yes,” said Slocum.
“Because she’s a reading dog, because she’s soft,” said Slocum. Rainbow is also, as McKee pointed out, a trained water rescue dog in addition to a trained therapy and reading dog. Newfoundlands are also known for their calm temperament and obedience.
After finishing up her session, Slocum explained that she loves reading with Rainbow, and that it helps her get in some good practice.
“I feel like it is, like, helping,” said Slocum. “’Cause normally I don’t read out loud.”
McKee, who has been bringing her Newfoundland dogs to the Fairfax Community Library for three years, said that her sessions are focused on the fun of reading, facilitate by Rainbow being there.
“That’s what it’s all about,” said McKee. “It’s very important that kids maintain the contact with Rainbow. They’re staying focused then on the reading.”
She added, “It’s very relaxing for them.”
McKee, who is a retired teacher and longtime Newfoundland owner, said the “Reading to a dog” sessions are a good way to combine her passions. For the Fairfax Community Library, it offers another chance for kids to get excited about books.
“We started doing it after school and we’re pretty much full,” said librarian Debbie Landauer. “I think it’s been a benefit for kids who may need a little extra encouragement in their reading.”
She added, “It’s been very popular.”