For a kid about to be pricked by a needle, a good book to thumb through may soften the sting.

But distraction is not the goal of a program that will put books in children’s hands when they visit their military pediatrician for a checkup.

Through $1.1 million in federal funding, 20 military bases worldwide — including Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany — will participate in a new "Reach Out and Read" initiative to promote early literacy in children of military families.

The program targets children 6 months to 5 years of age.

They’ll receive a free, age-appropriate book at each routine medical appointment, packaged with encouragement to parents to read to their kids.

"We’re not a program to teach children how to learn to read," said Matt Ferraguto, director of communications for Reach Out and Read National Center in Boston, Mass. "We just want to introduce them to the world of books and to show them [families] that reading together can be a fun activity."

A national, nonprofit literacy program founded in 1989, Reach Out and Read serves a number of communities stateside and overseas. Thirteen military bases already offer the program through separate funding, including U.S. Army hospitals in Heidelberg, Germany, and Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. Twenty bases — including three that already provide books on their own — are part of the 2009 military pilot.

The program is expected to be launched at Landstuhl in late January — or as soon as the first shipment of at least 500 books arrives, said Dr. Kara Hack, a staff pediatrician who is overseeing the program at Landstuhl Pediatrics and Adolescent Clinic.

New waiting room furniture financed by program funds is already in stock, including bookcases and small tables and chairs "to encourage kids to sit down and read," Hack said.

Hack, who was a fan of the program while assigned at Yongsan, said reading to babies as young as 6 months old can increase their vocabulary as they grow.

In the first year, the Landstuhl clinic expects to give out at least 3,000 books, written in a mix of English, Spanish and German.

Some books will deal with issues common to military families, such as calming anxieties about deployment and military service, organizers said.

Training the medical staff at Landstuhl is Dr. Molinda Chartrand, a developmental pediatrician with the Educational and Developmental Intervention Services flight at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.

She’ll help providers "understand how books can be used as tools in the exam setting and what they can expect for literacy milestones," she said.

Chartrand thinks combining a doctor’s appointment with reading is a brilliant idea.

"As pediatricians, we promote car seat safety, ‘back to sleep’ … it only makes sense we should be talking about books," she said. "Really what we’re talking about is school readiness and making sure kids are ready to learn."

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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