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New program brings books to kids on school buses in Maine

'Erma's Books on the Bus' came to SeDoMoCha school in Dover-Foxcroft on Thursday to encourage students to read on their rides home.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — For some children, reading can be challenging -- especially when they're under-performing for their age group. In the digital age, picking up a book is becoming less common -- but now, a new program is trying to change that.

'Erma's Books on the Bus' came to SeDoMoCha school in Dover-Foxcroft on Thursday. It's a program beginning this year in Maine that provides children with entertaining reading material to peruse during their sometimes-long rides home.

The program is named after Erma, a registered Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READing) and a therapy dog with Alliance Therapy Dogs. She visits schools and libraries to help calm students down if they are anxious or having trouble with reading. 

April Taylor is the sponsor for 'Erma's Books on the Bus'. She says she has seen a big improvement among young readers who work with Erma.

“What Erma does is she gives a really non-judgmental way for children to enjoy a book," Taylor says. "They lay on a bed with her, and they just absentmindedly start petting her, and Erma lays on top of them – and they realize it’s okay to read aloud. It’s okay to make a mistake."

The program is free to the school, which caters to preschool through junior high students. Taylor has divided more than 800 books among 17 buses. About 40 books go on each bus -- and then they get rotated throughout the year.

Taylor says the option to read lighter material instead of just textbooks is important for kids to develop a passion for reading.

"They take chances, and when they take chances, that’s when they realize, 'Oh, reading is fun.'"

Taylor said she would like to bring this program to all parts of Maine.