A recent local initiative called Tales With Big T is on a mission to increase literacy rates among minority youth in the Madison area. Among the many literacy programs in Wisconsin with similar goals, Tales With Big T stands out because of its unique, yet impactful, member: Big T himself.

“Big T,” also known as Tchotchke, is a six-pound, nine-year-old rescue from Milwaukee who travels to local parks, after school programs and community centers to help students read aloud and become more confident in their reading skills. The initiative was founded by Lisha Terre after seeing research from Tufts University on the benefits of children reading to dogs.

The benefits include an increased motivation to read independently, improvement of self-confidence and self-esteem, an increased sense of support, and reduction of stress/anxiety. The eagerness of the dog encourages the students read loudly and proudly.

“When he sees the kids, he gets very excited, and then the minute they start reading to him, he lies down on his special blanket and listens attentively,” Terre says.

“I was inspired by my love for children and my love for dogs.” she says. Having an educational background as well as investment in the community, she wanted to play a role in creating a more equitable Madison. Terre created the program in hopes of providing a less stressful reading environment for children, and the kids just plain love Big T as well. They now recognize the logo when the Tales With Big T SUV drives through their neighborhood.

“Big T, and our library can be found in local parks, after-school programs,  and several neighborhood centers,” Terre says. “We can also be seen at various events around Dane County, including Back to School Events, Downtown Madison Inc. Reading events, Darbo-Worthington Pop up Markets, Madison Firefighters Family Fun Day, and Madison Omegas Scholarship Weekend BBQ to name a few.”

“It’s about me learning, but at the same time, I get to hold this beautiful dog.” a student said after they finished reading to the pomeranian.

The students sat there beaming, waiting for their turn to read to the dog, each with a book provided to them from Big T’s traveling library, every one of which features a character of color. In fact, the only books which don’t feature characters of color are about animals and insects, which the children have specifically requested. One of the main missions of Tales With Big T is to make children feel comfortable through the books they are reading as well.

“If a kid sees a book with someone who looks like them, they’re are more likely to read it,” Terre says. “So I try my best to find books specifically for kids.”

The growing travelling library has over 200 books , all organized by reading level. While the collection is growing, Tales With Big T is looking for more books representing children of color. The organization is turning to the Madison community to provide the books to children, which they get to keep. Donations of books can be dropped off until December 16 at Rosen Nissan 2510 W. Beltline Hwy.