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Bob McClay/KTAR

PHOENIX -- Kids are learning to read at the Cholla Branch of the Phoenix Public Library, and they really love who they're reading to.

"He's a soft dog and a good one," said seven-year-old Emily Crawford.

"He" is Stuart Little, a 10-year-old Yorkshire Terrier. A little guy who is named after the fictional mouse. People at the library know him as "Stewie."

He belongs to Dee, the mother of Carl Harrison. Carl said one day mom brought Stewie to visit Carl's dad at the hospital.

"Mom noticed that he was very good at the hospital visiting my father," Carl said. "One of the nurses asked mom if she had ever thought of making Stewie a medical alert dog or a therapy dog. Mom then put Stewie through the classes, and he passed with flying colors."

Then Dee started volunteering at the library, and bringing Stewie with her.

"When I saw that he was a therapy dog, I figured that he was already used to being around people and friendly with them," said Librarian Connie Geyer.

She wondered if Dee would allow him to help children learn to read out loud.

"I just asked Dee if she would be willing to do this, and we just got started," Geyer said.

Stewie has been with kids each week for the past month. He sits next to the kids as they read to him, and Geyer said he's helping them get the courage to read out loud.

"We have some who are very reluctant and very shy, and I have to really encourage them, along with their parent, to come and do it," Geyer said.

Once they meet Stewie, Geyer said, "They get into it and their enthused! Afterward, the say they've had fun doing it and want to do it again!"

At the end of each reading, the kids give Stewie a treat, and they get an "I read to Stewie" bookmark. Harrison said Stewie also does tricks.

"He does smile and he does wave," Harrison said, though the dog was too shy to do it for us.

Seven-year-old Oden read to Stewie for the first time on Thursday and said he enjoyed reading "Froggie Goes To School" to the dog.

Oden's grandmother, Pam Hollings, said Oden's reading improved with just one visit.

"There were still words that he had a little trouble with, but he's doing much better, and we feel like continuing with it," Hollings said.

Your kids can have their chance to read to Stewie every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at the Phoenix Public Library Cholla Branch at 10050 North Metro Parkway, near Metrocenter. The admission is free. You can call the library at 602-262-4636 for more information.

Bob McClay, Reporter

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