'Wild About Reading' at Fort Worth Zoo promotes importance of children's literacy

FORT WORTH -- Books provide an escape for 6-year-old Katawna Davis.

From her home in Arlington, she can travel to ancient castles, outer space or faraway countries.

"She has always loved to read," said her mother, Lisa Escalante. "She uses her imagination and goes anywhere she wants."

Katawna joined about 1,500 other children Sunday at the Fort Worth Zoo for Wild About Reading. Organized by the zoo, United Way of Tarrant County and Educational First Steps, the event was designed to promote literacy and the importance of reading at home.

Children made books and bookmarks, went on scavenger hunts across the zoo, participated in story time with Mayor Betsy Price and signed up for cards at area libraries.

The event targeted low-income children from across Tarrant County, many of whom have never been to the zoo.

Learning to read as a child is crucial to developing skills later in life, organizers said.

"The first three years of school, children learn to read," said Marilyn Jones, a United Way vice president who organized the event. "After that, they read to learn, so it's very important that they do not get left behind."

That is why Marisa Ramirez of Haltom City brought her three children to the event. All her children love to read, and she wants to keep it that way.

Brayan, her 15-year-old son, a student at Haltom High School, loves The Hunger Games. Her 7-year-old daughter, Emilly, prefers somewhat lighter material, like Rainbow Magic. And her 2-year-old daughter, Marissa, likes hardcover books with colorful numbers and letters.

"They learn so many important things from books. Colors, numbers, feelings," Ramirez said. "They can learn a lot about life from books."

Katawna Davis developed a love of reading from her father, Eltawn Davis, who reads to her every day.

"The better you are at reading, the better your chance of being successful," Davis said. Davis and Escalante have four children.

"I tried exposing them to new words and ideas and objects right away," he said.

They love children's stories from the Bible, and they love it when he improvises.

"We would read all day long if we could," he said.

Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056

Twitter: @sarahbfw