Read a child a book and you may interest them in reading. Read a child a book just about them and they may be readers for life.

That’s the theory behind a Rotary Club of Dallas project that’s now more than two decades old.

Each spring, schools across Dallas look forward to the latest edition of I Like Me!, a book as individual as each of the more than one thousand kindergarteners who receive it. Each book is customized for a child, and each one of those kids gets a personalized reading from a member of the Rotary club. This year at Rosemont Primary in Oak Cliff, a hundred children got individual attention from thirteen Rotary club members.

Rotarian Bill Dendy reads Rosemont kindergarteners their own personalized books.
Rotarian Bill Dendy reads Rosemont kindergarteners their own personalized books.

The project, funded by the Rotary Foundation at a cost of $12,000 annually, takes weeks to put together. DISD gathers the names of the book recipients and their two best friends in school and sends them off to a Kansas firm which prints each individual book. As is common in literature for the age group, I Like Me! carries lessons, often in rhyme:

“I’m no fool, I’ll stay in school,” and “We like to take turns, it is fun to share, it means we care.” The lessons may not stick with the children, but the books often do. So far, 56,000 have been printed just in Dallas. Other Rotary clubs have also adopted the program.

Will Kemp and his classmates each got a book in which they are the main character.
Will Kemp and his classmates each got a book in which they are the main character.

“We’ve had more than one Rotarian say that someone that works at a bank or a school says ‘I remember when you came to read to me when I was a kindergartener,’” says Rachael Jones. “I still have my book.”

The books cover topics from counting to character.
The books cover topics from counting to character.

Word recognition is key at this stage of a child’s education, says Lynn Merlino, who’s been teaching at Rosemont in for more than twenty years. “The books bring a new excitement about looking at words and wanting to read.”