Bedtime stories are only a phone call away for children in Minnesota's South Washington County school district.
For two sessions lasting three days each, teenagers from Community Youth Connection, a school board advisory council and service organization, run a bedtime-story hotline. They've offered the service for nearly 10 years—once in February and again in December. The hotline was scheduled to operate again Feb. 3 through 5.
Children ranging in age from 2 to 12 call the hotline between 7 and 9 p.m. and are directed to a teenager who will let them pick from two or three books. The readers try to engage the young callers by asking their ages, what schools they go to, and how their days went.
"The kids really enjoy it," said reader Caitlin Monette, a 15-year-old sophomore from Woodbury High School, who has participated in the hotline for three years. "They call back more than once. They change their names sometimes."
Many children will request their favorite reader when they call, she said.
About 25 teenagers work with Washington County librarians to choose about 100 books that make good bedtime stories. The typical reading list includes books like The Gingerbread Man, Goodnight Moon, and The Three Little Pigs. Books by Dr. Seuss, especially The Cat in the Hat, are the most requested, said Mary Beth Johnson, the youth-programs coordinator for the 15,500-student school district.
The hotline has grown popular in the communities southeast of St. Paul served by the district: Cottage Grove, Newport, St. Paul Park, and Woodbury. Volunteers receive as many as 1,000 calls in a three-day period. Several children have told readers they wish the hotline were in service more often, Ms. Johnson said.
"Kids who are read to just love it," she said. "It's fun and easy."
Readers advertise the service by hanging up posters, visiting preschools, and telling their friends and families. Ms. Monette said she often gets calls from the children she baby-sits.
Many of the teenagers, including Ms. Monette, say working the hotline is their favorite activity with Community Youth Connection.
"It's basically what they're all about—service to the community. They really love kids," Ms. Johnson said. "Parents seem to like it— gives them a little break for the night."
Vol. 22, Issue 21, Page 3Published in Print: February 5, 2003, as Take Note