CHIPLEY-- Early literacy is essential to preparing children for elementary school. One local library is challenging parents to set the bar high -- 1,000 books before kindergarten.

"It doesn't matter what they're reading as long as they're reading from start to finish or their parents are reading to them," said Jess Bolton, youth instructor at Washington County Public Library, 1444 Jackson Ave. "It counts. I think they will be surprised how far ahead their kids would get just by having that close interaction, building bonds."

The library is piloting W.E.R.E.A.D. (We're Encouraging Reading Educating Achieving Discovery), a nationwide literacy initiative that challenges parents and caregivers to read to and with their children. Registration, which is free of cost, is open and guardians are encouraged to register at the library before the start of the program on Jan. 29.

The program is available to families with children up to five years old. Book goal is prorated based on age at sign-up.

Cynthia Brown, center coordinator at Tri-County Community Council Washington County Office Head Start, which serves three and four year olds, said school readiness, parent engagement and literacy are pillars for development in young children.

"We promote and encourage parents to read to their children," she said, noting the center provides a literacy environment -- posters, books in every subject taught, songs and other activities -- causing children to "read throughout the day."

Several of the center's students attended Bolton's story time at the library Thursday morning. Their small frames crowded around Bolton and eager to hear the next page of "Library Lion" by Michelle Knudsen.

Meredith Hansel, of Chipley, held hands with her daughter.

"We usually read about two times a week," Hansel said, adding her five year old likes "Pete the Cat" books.

It could seem reading 1,000 books is too great of a challenge; however, if parents read to their children regularly, they could exceed the mark.

"It's doable, though it seems crazy," Bolton said. "You would of met your goal if just read one book a night or if you read one every other night if you read starting from birth."

The pilot program includes a graduation at the end of summer. The program is accepting sponsorships in order to raise funds for supplies for the ceremony.

Moreover, Bolton said, guardians must set the example.

"It's very doable, it's just are parents willing to do it, are they willing to over achievers and get into it," Bolton said.

But, with household income and economics playing a substantial role in access to education, some local children will face challenges in literacy. According to National Center for Children in Poverty, data shows children in low-income families were about 20-percent less likely to be read to every day compared to children in families at or above the poverty line.

"We don't get a lot of kids (to come to the library), especially those that can be considered underprivileged," Bolton said. She added, "Literacy is a problem, especially in an area with our demographics -- that doesn't have (higher) income."

More than a million children in the state under six years old live in low-income families. In Washington County, about 30-percent of children from ages 5 to 17 are in families in poverty, according to a 2017 report from Florida Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research. And about 17-percent of the county's adults lack basic literacy skills.

Tiny hands darted in the air when Bolton read the last page. They were ready to hear another story, particularly, that of "Peppa Pig: Dentist Trip." The zeal is confirmation several children could be inducted into W.E.R.E.A.D.'s 1,000 Book Wall Hall of Fame.

"It doesn't matter what you read -- read a comic book -- as long as you're reading something," Bolton said. "Expand your world, knowledge, vocabulary, comprehension. There are so many things reading does for you."

Register your child for W.E.R.E.A.D. at Washington County Public Library, 1444 Jackson Ave. For more information or to sponsor the graduation ceremony, contact Jess Bolton at 850-638-1314 or email, youthinstructor@wcplfl.com.