PATERSON, NJ - A happy vibe filled the room at Great Falls Pediatrics on Main Street Tuesday morning.

Children smiled. Children laughed. But most important, their little ears listened, as Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. read to them. “If You Give Your Mouse a Cookie,” was the story.

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It was a small audience, from infants to second-graders. These children came with their parents for a check-up, but received a very special surprise. Not only did they get a reading from a congressman, but they also received a free book to take home with them as part of “Reach Out and Read,” a New Jersey program that prepares young children to succeed in school.

“I do a lot of reading,” Pascrell told the children. “I usually read six newspapers a day and two magazines. Reading is important. It’s the basis of everything. If you read a lot and you learn a lot, you have something nobody could take from you.”

Pascrell not only read to the kids, but encouraged them to engage in conversation with him, asking them questions about the story as he read. “Let’s use the brain God gave us,” he said to the youngsters.

Mia Alvarez, age 7, said her favorite book is “Cat in the Hat.” She loves to read because, “it’s fun and you can use your imagination.”

Her sister, Amy, who just turned 7 added that reading is “cool.”

Davens Rene, 6, also favors the author Dr. Seuss and said that he reads because, “I like to learn.”

Sammy Singletary, of Paterson, came with his daughter and granddaughter. He really enjoyed the event and said, “It’s a good thing Bill came to read to the kids. Reading will take you a long way in life.”

Improving early childhood literacy has been one of the goals of the Paterson school district. Just 37.2 percent of the city's third graders reached proficiency levels in language arts last year.

Kim Byam, director of Reach Out and Read – New Jersey, said, “Research shows that if you intervene in the first five years of life and partner with parents, you can dramatically improve the early literacy skills of a child, putting them on the track for success in school and in life.”

She added, “Childhood development experts tell us that the most important thing that parents can do to prepare their children to succeed in school is to read aloud to them every day.”

Great Falls Pediatrics is one of six Reach Out and Read programs in the 9th congressional district. The program provides books to more than 2700 children and their families each year. Reach Out and Read – NJ serves children at 75 locations across the state, reaching more than 70,000 infants, toddlers and preschoolers each year.

For more information, go to www.reachoutandread.org