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How barbershops make the cut in helping kids read

Kansas City Mayor Sly James (left) and barbershop owner Joey Thomas helped Thomas’ 4-year-old daughter, Joye, read a book about Barbie.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James (left) and barbershop owner Joey Thomas helped Thomas’ 4-year-old daughter, Joye, read a book about Barbie. Mike English

When Joey Thomas’ 4-year-old daughter isn’t playing with her Barbie dolls in his barbershop, she’s looking to read. But the barbershop, like many, was sprinkled with sports magazines. Not really the girl’s idea of a page-turner.

But now Joye can pick books there that have “a lot of pretty pictures” and read with her dad during his breaks.

JoeyCuts Barber Salon, 1805 Vine St., is one of 13 barbershops in Kansas City participating in #DadsTurnThePage, a campaign encouraging more fathers to read to their children. It’s part of the city initiative Turn the Page KC, which became a nonprofit group last year. Over the next two years the organization is trying to double the number of Kansas City third-graders who can read proficiently.

According to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center, about 45 percent of dads read to their children every day. So Turn the Page KC sees placing books in barbershops — and in the hands of fathers — as one of the many steps to help people understand the urgency.

“We saw a real need to engage more fathers in reading with their kids,” said Mike English, the initiative’s executive director. “We were trying to think how to get to fathers. The first place that came to mind was the barbershop.”

Turn the Page KC is also providing an incentive for Kansas City dads: $25 gift cards from the home-service website Zaarly if they post photos of them reading to their children with the hashtag #DadsTurnThePage on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. They’ll also be entered in a contest for Royals tickets. The winner will be chosen on Father’s Day this Sunday. As of now, English said, more than 350 fathers have participated.

In the past year the group has recruited tutors and reading buddies for the Kansas City Public Schools and is now handing out books to parents after they file their children’s birth certificates.

Though having children’s books is new for many barbershops, Thomas says he has seen a growing response from his customers. Since the campaign’s start one month ago, customers have taken home about 60 books at the encouragement of Thomas and his employees.

Thomas hopes this campaign becomes year-round and expands to the general theme of getting more fathers involved in their children’s lives.

“As long as dads are active in kids’ lives, if it’s reading to them or even making their PB and J, that’s the most important thing,” he said.

The city is brainstorming ways to broaden the program, said Julie Holland, the mayor’s education adviser.

“There is this anecdotal, visual power of seeing a father read to their child,” Holland said. “It’s something that’s striking and makes it seem novel. But it shouldn’t be. It should be normal. That’s what we want to see. It’s not more magical that a father reads to his child, because it’s always magical when a parent reads to their child.”

To reach Meredith Newman, call 816-234-4689 or send an email to mnewman@kcstar.com.

READ ON

Here are some of the books that Turn the Page KC has donated to local barbershops:

▪ “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle

▪ “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst

▪ “Dancing Feet!” by Lindsey Craig

▪ “Scaredy Squirrel” by Melanie Watt

▪ Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey

▪ “The Orange Shoes” by Trinka Hakes Noble

▪ Ramona the Pest series by Beverly Cleary

▪ Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne

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