Baby’s first book

Friends of the Library program donates books to newborn babies

BIG RAPIDS — After a child is born in the Birthing Center at Mecosta County Medical Center, the family is given several things, including a package of baby wipes and advice on how to care for their newborn.

TWINS: Matt and Laney Plotnikiewicz, of Reed City, read to their newborn twins, Isabella (left) and Reed (right).

They are also given a gift from a local group they’ve likely never met. It’s simple and inexpensive, but studies show that repeated can help their baby’s brain develop.

Each child born at the Birthing Center is given their first book from the Friends of the Big Rapids Community Library.

“Evidence shows reading gets your child in the habit of being close to you, so that way by the time they’re 1 or 2 years old, they’re used to that atmosphere of sitting in your lap listening to you read,” said director of the Birthing Center Betsy Workman.

NEWBORN: Amanda Nelson, of Stanwood, reads to her newborn son, Codie. She and husband, Mike, plan to read to their first child as much as possible. (Pioneer photos/Jonathan Eppley)

The Friends has been providing books to the hospital to give to newborns since 1994. Since its inception, the “Catch ‘em in the Cradle” program has provided more than 10,000 books to children born in Mecosta County. An average of 700 babies are born at the hospital each year, said Tom Hogenson, public relations director for the hospital.

“The idea is to encourage reading and promote literacy,” Hogenson said. “Patients always smile when they think of the people who give this to them without even knowing them.”

Three years after the Friends started the program, an endowment fund was setup through the Mecosta County Community Foundation. Through the endowment, the Friends are able to write grants to replenish the supply of books to give to newborns.

NEW BOOKS: Betsy Workman, director of Mecosta County Medical Center’s Birthing Center, holds books that are given to newborns. The “Catch ‘em in the Cradle” program encourages parents to read to their children because it can help their baby’s brain develop.

The results of the program are immeasurable, said Friends President Mary Ryan.

“It’s been pretty significant because we’ve seen an increase in the number of parents that come to story hour at the library since we began,” Ryan said. “The idea is to get books to children in the community who might not have access to new books. When you first start reading to them they’re just looking at the pictures, but the more you keep reading the more the babies like that closeness. You create a bond that books are important.”

A letter from the library and the Friends is tucked inside every book given to the family of a newborn. The letter reminds the parents that it’s “never too early to read to your child,” and invites them to take advantage of everything the library has to offer.

Amanda Nelson, of Stanwood, gave birth to her first child, Codie, on Aug. 8 at the Birthing Center. Just more than 24 hours later she and husband Mike were presented with “baby’s first book,” titled “What’s on my Head?” She read the book depicting babies wearing different hats twice that morning.

BOOKS: The Friends of the Big Rapids Community Library has been donating books to give to newborns in Mecosta County since 1994. More than 10,000 books have been given away. (Pioneer photos/Jonathan Eppley)

“This is a great program and very educational,” Nelson said.

Codie has many books waiting for him at home, Nelson added. They plan to read to their newborn son as much as possible to help develop his learning.

Laney Plotnikiewicz, of Reed City, gave birth to twins, Isabella and Reed, on Aug. 9. Having three daughters at home, Plotnikiewicz and her husband Matt knew all about the Catch ‘em in the Cradle program when the twins were each given a book.

READING: Matt Plotnikiewicz, of Reed City, reads to his newborn daughter, Isabella. The Friends of the Big Rapids Community Library has provided books to newborns at Mecosta County Medical Center since 1994.

“It’s a great idea,” she said. “We’ve got cabinets of books at home. We read to all our children every night.”

Reading to infants is as important as reading to toddlers, said Librarian Helena Hayes. Not only does it help with the child’s development, it builds a bond with the parent.

“There are some physical kinds of benefits to reading to a child, but one of the best things is that connection between the child and the person reading to them,” Hayes said. “With all of the images and stimuli that kids have today, like video games and TV, if you get them interested in books and keep them interested in books, it becomes their first love.”


Posted by Jonathan Eppley

Jonathan Eppley is news editor for the Pioneer. He designs and copy edits the Pioneer daily, and manages staff in the evening. Eppley joined the Pioneer staff in 2010. He can be reached at (231) 592-8357 or at

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