BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. – If all dentists give out free toothbrushes after a child’s annual visit, how come all pediatricians don’t hand out free books?

Both of these tools are essential in young children’s health, and considering a child’s brain is 80 percent developed by age three, shouldn’t books be as ubiquitous as a tooth scrubber?

This is half the mission of Reach Out and Read Minnesota, a non-profit that gives children ages six-months to five years free books at each of their pediatric well-child visits.

The other half is educating parents on the profound importance of reading aloud to young children, even before some might it’s effective.

“Right now we are reaching about 40 percent of the children ages six months through 5 years in Minnesota,” said Dr. Nathan Chomilo, a pediatrician at Park Nicollet Brookdale and the medical director of Reach Out and Read Minnesota.

The program is now in 255 clinics distributing 260,000 book each year.

Doctors have known for decades that reading to your child, even in the womb, can activate brain development, increase vocabulary by 24 months, and decrease risk of speech delay.

But Chomilo stresses new research that shows not only what books are more effective to read aloud but how to read them aloud.

“We had some recent research done by a colleague of mine in Cincinnati who looked at the response to the brain when you play an audio book, when you read a picture book and when you read an interactive book where you touch something,” said Chomilo.

The results in brain activation were what the author calls the “Goldilocks effect”—the audio book was too cold, the e-book too hot, but the traditional picture book proved to be a sweet spot for cognition in children.

So read, read aloud, read often, read for fun, read for them. Research shows it makes a difference, whether parents see it or not.