Paije Taft is less than a week old, but she's already on her first book.
She's learning about a mouse and her babies sniffing hay with their little pink noses, a mother pig nursing her squealing little piglets, fuzzy yellow chicks scurrying around the henhouse and a baby lamb learning to stand on wobbly legs.
Paije, sucking on a pacifier, lies blissfully in her mother's arms as Tammie Taft flips through the pages of Farm Babies, a Little Golden Book.
The 8-pound, 4-ounce newborn can't comprehend the words yet, but the Rotary Club of West Jacksonville hopes it will jump-start an interest in books.
Paije was born at 6:34 p.m. Monday at St. Vincent's Medical Center. On Wednesday, her mother was given the book as a gift from the Rotary Club.
For two years, the club has been giving the books to the mothers of every baby born at St. Vincent's. The Orange Park Rotary Club has done the same at Orange Park Medical Center.
This week, the project was expanded to other hospitals in Duval County. The club received a $15,000 grant from the Rotary Foundation to distribute the books at Baptist Medical Center, Baptist-Beaches, Jacksonville Naval Hospital, Memorial Hospital Jacksonville, St. Luke's Hospital and University Medical Center.
About 12,000 babies are born each year in the Jacksonville area, said Randy Thornton, a pediatrician who is heading the project.
"The goal is to improve literacy," he said. "There's no question a child's language develops faster when they're read to . . . If we can start parents reading to their kids earlier, we'll have a nice captive audience."
To fund the project, Rotary member Meg Folds applied for one of the hundreds of grants that Rotary awards worldwide.
Lori Saffer a registered nurse in St. Vincent's newborn unit, said the project is especially relevant because of School Superintendent John Fryer's goal to have every Duval County student read 25 books a year.
She started reading to her own three children at an early age, and they have turned out to be avid readers, Saffer said.
The books are designed for infants as young as 6 months, but if parents want to start younger, then that's OK too, said Thornton, the father of a 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. …