UAB and Children’s of Alabama celebrate Bookworm Day with addition of new NICU book vending machine

UAB Medicine hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate the new NICU Bookworms vending machine. United States Representative Terri A. Sewell (AL-07) joined the ceremony and read to infants in the UAB RNICU and Children’s of Alabama NICU.

inside SELECTS Rep Sewell RNICU Tour 004 4758From left to right: Sandra Milstead, UAB family nurse liaison; Brian Massey, Children's of Alabama, Nate Horsley, University of Alabama System, Toni Leeth, UAB Health System, Terri A. Sewell, United States Representative (AL-07); Viral Jain, M.D., creator of the NICU Bookworms program; Mitch Cohen, M.D., chair of the Department of Pediatrics at UAB and Children's; Yvonne Bolaji, clinical research coordinator for NICU Bookworms
Photography: Jennifer Alsabrook-Turner
Premature and sick newborns are at high risk of having developmental issues that can affect their language and reading skills. UAB Medicine and Children’s of Alabama launched the NICU Bookworms reading program in 2021 to help reduce these deficits, increase parent-infant bonding and encourage shared reading starting at birth for all babies.

UAB Medicine hosted its annual Bookworm Day on Friday, Dec. 15, to celebrate the joy of reading and the incredible power of parent-child bonding. During this event, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to mark the next chapter of the NICU Bookworms program — a book vending machine for patients. To commemorate this day and the new addition, United States Representative Terri A. Sewell (AL-07)  joined the ceremony and toured the UAB Regional Newborn Intensive Care Unit and Children’s of Alabama Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, reading to some of UAB and Children’s smallest patients.

“As the daughter of a librarian, I know firsthand the power of books to transform lives,” Sewell said. “It was such a joy to celebrate the launch of the new NICU Bookworm vending machine alongside our partners at UAB Medicine and Children’s of Alabama. I know this program will help strengthen the bonds between children and caregivers and set even our most vulnerable babies up for success. I want to thank these two cherished institutions for all they do to help our babies grow and develop.”

Infants in neonatal units often do not experience the human sound exposure needed for brain development during the early period of rapid mental growth. Reading to babies is important for stimulating their senses and building strong bonds with their caregivers. It also helps parents deal with their stress and anxiety. Reading books with babies starting from birth, not just limited to those in the NICU, can provide numerous benefits for their development and ensure future success.

Viral G. Jain, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Neonatology at UAB and Children’s, created the program after studying the positive impacts of reading aloud to neonatal intensive care unit infants.

inside SELECTS Rep Sewell RNICU Tour 014 4891 1The new book vending machine allows parents to access books at any time, providing more independence to families.
Photography: Jennifer Alsabrook-Turner
“Shared book reading is a major source of language exposure across childhood and a tool for parent-infant bonding,” Jain said. “Emergent literacy is an important domain of child development, given its importance to long-term health outcomes. It is never too early to talk or read with your baby.”

Parents participating in the NICU Bookworms program receive a decorative circle every time they read a book to their infant. The circles are then placed on each infant’s door and help build a “bookworm.”

Typically, books are distributed to parents daily. Sandra Milstead, family nurse liaison in the UAB Women and Infants Center, and Yvonne Bolaji, clinical research coordinator, oversee the book distribution. They recognized that the current hand-delivery process limited families’ time and opportunity to read new books.

After learning about the UAB School of Education’s book vending machine, the team realized a vending machine in the unit would be the perfect way to make the program more accessible and efficient.

To donate new books to the NICU Bookworms program, visit the UAB RNICU Wishlist.

The new book vending machine, donated by Barbre and Alex Hoar, allows parents to access books at any time, providing more independence to families. Parents will earn tokens through participating in care with the infant and education programs. The tokens can then be used to get a new book from the vending machine.  

“Many families in our program and even in the state have a hard time accessing books,” Milstead said. “We want our families to build a habit of shared reading and grow their personal libraries so they can continue this journey even after they leave UAB.”

Books for the NICU Bookworms program were donated by Reach Out and Read-Alabama and by Legacy Federal Credit Union. To donate new books to the program, visit the UAB RNICU Wishlist. Want to make an additional gift? Donate to the UAB RNICU and CCN here.