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Cookie Bookie Club literacy coordinator Danna Peterson, right, reads Eric Carle’s “From Head to Toe” to a Derby family last week. Peterson and her coworker Lori Belew, left, have adapted the Cookie Bookie Club to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Derby’s Cookie Bookie Club tends to draw a large crowd – sometimes as many as 100 kids.

The kids are a key part of each Cookie Bookie reading, so when the coronavirus pandemic hit, literacy coordinator Danna Peterson wanted to make sure they stayed a part of the story.

The Cookie Bookie Club is a part of the Derby Parents as Teachers group. The program is for children up to 5 years old and acts as an “early intervention” to help develop reading skills early. The readings provide an interactive, entertaining experience for the kids, with the goal of instilling a love of reading in them early.

For Peterson, who has been with the Cookie Bookie Club for nearly 20 years, keeping the interactivity of the book readings was key when coming up with a COVID-19 Cookie Bookie plan. She didn’t want to just read a book into a camera and post it online.

Peterson wanted to see families and give them a break from social isolation. Peterson knew some parents stuck at home all day with their kids were struggling and feeling a sense of cabin fever.

“There were parents saying ‘I’m not cut out to do this,’” Peterson said. “And I was missing all of our families. I was missing what my job entailed.”

So Peterson got permission to go out to a family’s driveway or porch to do a reading once a week. Each reading would be filmed and then posted online. It would allow her to keep the interactivity of the book readings while also meeting social distancing standards.

Peterson’s been doing that since the pandemic overtook everyone’s lives, and she’s going to keep doing it until things fully return to normal.

Despite the changes, Peterson has been able to maintain the key elements of the Cookie Bookie Club. She still starts each reading by singing the Cookie Bookie song with the kids.

It starts like this: “At Cookie Book Club we read a book, read a book, read a book! At Cookie Book Club we read a book, during story time!”

Once the reading begins, she keeps the kids engaged by having them help read each page.

Usually when the story’s over, the kids in attendance would make crafts based on the book. The Cookie Bookie Club typical space has two craft tables, a playdough table and a cookie table where kids decorate and frost their own cookies. Every child also leaves with a Scholastic book.

“Those kids are so excited opening up their bag to see their book,” Peterson said. “As someone who has loved books all her life, that’s heartwarming to me.”

Right now the program is doing “Curbside Cookie Bookie.” The day after each reading is posted online, families can come to Carlton – where Derby Parents as Teachers is located – and pick up a goodie bag with a book, craft, and cookie.

Peterson said she thinks the Cookie Bookie Club is one of Derby’s best-kept secrets. With its current online element, it may be a little more visible. Peterson said she hopes it continues to grow.

“It’s just an awesome program for families. Everyone’s really passionate about it. We bring families from all walks of life, we all are together, and everyone knows the main thing that’s important is the child and parents are doing the best job they can do. That's our goal: to encourage parents to be the best and first teacher for their child.”

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