Innovative Programming: Wee Read West at Charlotte Mecklenburg

Emily Nanney, Children’s Services Coordinator at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, was interviewed for this post.

About the program

Wee Read West is a year round reading program for children from birth to age 5 at West Boulevard Library, a branch of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. Children at surrounding schools are in a targeted attendance zone in which only 35% of 3rd graders are reading at grade level. The program has been in place for a little over a year.

Photos taken by Meryle Leonard, Outreach Manager at CML

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Wee Read began as one piece of Charlotte’s 2012 $244,000 National Leadership grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS) “Read To Me, Charlotte, ” which focused on encouraging early learning by partnering with other municipal agencies to increase the number of children reading at a grade-appropriate level.

Wee Read West first started as a component of the Summer Reading Program that was expanded to be year-round. Staff worked with nearby preschools in a targeted attendance zone in the county where only 35% of 3rd graders were on grade level. Monthly incentives and storytimes, a special reading log, and celebrations at six month intervals help motivate children to participate. Six month celebrations include elements of Every Child Ready to Read storytimes and literacy activities as well as a guest presenters. Participants bring in their reading record on visits to this library branch to receive incentives such as books, magnetic letters, and writing boards. Children average earning incentives bi-monthly.

342 children from birth to age 5 are currently participating in the pilot program that started in 2012. The same location only had 21 participants in their yearly summer reading program just a couple years ago before Wee Read West began! In the 1st year of the IMLS Grant, over 200 children signed up for Wee Read West, exceeding the goal by 55%. 100% of parents reported their child had shown a great interest in reading together at home since attending storytime and they are better prepared to develop pre-reading skills in their child. Two participants read over 100 books. One parent said,

“My preschooler has recently begun reading Bob books and reads the sight words on his own. We visit our library two or three times a week.”

Why was the program initiated?

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library has long been interested in improving reading practices in families with young children and increased the number of children entering school with appropriate pre-literacy skills. The library has also wanted to focus on increased number of books in the home.  The Wee Read West program was devised as just one crucial component of the larger IMLS grant focused on “Improving school readiness of children living in the Reid Park Academy attendance zone.”

How did you go about implementing the program?

This geographic area of need was determined using data from the City of Charlotte, Neighborhood Quality of Life Study 2010, the Urban Institute at UNC Charlotte, and the NC Department of Public Instruction.

The program was advertised online and at West Blvd. Library, and staff from West Blvd. called nearby preschools/daycare centers to invite them to the initial program kick-off.  Staff targeted preschools/outreach sites in the West Blvd. area that could walk or drive to this library location.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library designed a basic print reading record for participants that included the following guidelines and information:

Wee Read @ West Blvd. Library is a year round reading program for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers from birth to age 5.

What counts as reading?

Your child reading to you or you reading to your child counts as time spent reading.  Reading does not have to be done in one sitting but can take place in small amounts of time throughout the day.  Reading can be done all together as a family or one-on-one.

How much should I read to my child?

Read to your child early and often.  We suggest that you read with your child at least 20-30 minutes a day, but no time is too short!

Bring your reading record to West Blvd. Library each week that you have read to receive a small prize.


The reading records that parents/caregivers turn in on each visit to West Blvd. Library also includes feedback from parents, answering the question, “Write about your child’s reading experiences in the box below.”

The program is implemented by the four staff members working on the IMLS grant, as well as staff at West Blvd. Library.  Staff time is needed to track reading records, provide incentives, and offer weekly storytimes.  Every six months there is a celebration for those who have participating in the program.  In addition, new packets and reading records are provided to encourage new sign-ups.  Celebration programs include guest presenters, storybook characters, Every Child Ready to Read storytimes and literacy activities, etc.  Participants average earning incentives twice a month so funds are needed for the cost of incentives.


Consider your community.  Some locations may have more participating preschools and some locations may have more participating individual families.  The program at West Blvd. Library has successfully targeted mainly preschools, but there are also some individual families participating.

Be flexible in offering incentives.  If a child looses his/her reading records, provide additional ones.  If a child says he/she has read, provide a small incentive on that visit.

Having a celebration every six months to encourage participants is something to consider when replicating this program.  It would be great if incentives could also continue to be refreshed for reading.  Incentives for parents might be helpful to support more family participation.

Setting aside additional money to build home libraries is key.

What has the program accomplished?

As mentioned above, currently 342 children are participating in the program in a geographic area in which only 35% of 3rd graders are reading at grade level.  These children are reading or being read to weekly, have increased the number of books in their home libraries, and are using the library frequently. The same location only had 21 participants in their yearly summer reading program just a couple years ago before Wee Read West began. One way to look at this improvement is that it is an increase in participation of 1,500%!

What is the community reaction/feedback?

Alecia Mitchell, the library location manager of West Blvd. Library, shared:

“It has been great to witness the commitment and enthusiasm that the children and parents display when picking up their incentives. One child has been so proud of his reading skills that he will engage the staff in a conversation to tell them about the “cool book” that he read.  I know that this program is making a difference in our community!”

Some feedback on reading records from parents/caregivers includes the following:

  • “Enjoyed reading every night with his mom and brother.”
  • “Very interested and enjoyed books and reading time!”
  • “Loves to read!”
  • “Mekhi loves to read and points out pictures and says what they are.”
  • “Nehemiah enjoys reading all his books and even reads with his brother.  He tries to read to me too.”
  • “Na’Ron enjoyed the colors in the book and joined with me in making sound effects throughout reading all the books.”
  • “Landon likes to read to smaller kids and draws pictures to go along with story on chalkboard.  Landon has great recall and he’s starting to use big words in his vocabulary now.  He lets me read first and then he likes to read to me.  He also asks what words mean.”
  • “He likes to read to smaller children and has become very detailed.”
  • Demetrius said, “We have storytime at the daycare, we sing, dance, and talk about books we read.  I like for my mom to read to me.”
  • Shania said, “We go to the library on Tuesday morning at WBL.  We are learning words when reading, I have my own library card, and my mom and I go to the library on Saturday.  We have storytime at the daycare.  I understand what the story is about.  We sing at storytime.  I can write my name.”
  • Thailen said, “I love Mo Willems’ books.  They are so funny!”
  • “Trinity enjoys reading.  Trinity reads pictures in the books and also reads little simple word books.  We are a reading family . . . someone is always reading.”
  • During the first 6 months of the program, one child had read over 100 books.
  • One child at Thompson was very excited to get his magnetic letters as a prize and said, “These are mine? I get to take them home?”

What are your plans for the future?

Continue with Wee Read West during the second year of the IMLS grant.  We will continue to share information about this program with other library systems as well as consider expanding to other locations in Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

To view more photos of Wee Read West, visit: (photographs taken by Meryle Leonard, Outreach Manager in Charlotte Mecklenburg Library)


Want to learn more about the program? Contact Emily Nanney, Children’s Services Coordinator, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library:

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