Dogs Can Help Kids Read, so This Author Hit the Road With Hers

Kristi Pahr

Katy McQuaid, author of the Everybody Loves Grace series of children's books, knows how important it is to get kids reading. So every chance she gets, she and her dog Grace, star of the series, take to the road to entertain and educate kids, introduce them to Grace, and spread a little joy.

Science backs up McQuaid's instinct to get kids reading with a pup or two. A recent study from the University of British Columbia (UBC) showed that reading in the presence of your furry, four-legged companion could help motivate readers to finish challenging books. “The findings showed that children spent significantly more time reading and showed more persistence when a dog—regardless of breed or age—was in the room as opposed to when they read without them,” said Camille Rousseau, a doctoral student in UBC Okanagan’s School of Education and researcher, in a statement. “In addition, the children reported feeling more interested and more competent.”

While several studies have shown the correlation between reading to dogs and improvement in students' reading abilities, the UBC study is the first to show the presence of a dog actually helped students persevere through difficult passages. Researchers assigned students books that were above their reading level and found that when study participants read difficult books with a dog present they chose to continue reading the book as opposed to asking for something less challenging.

Courtesy Katy McQuaid

But if you don't have a dog at home, your kids can read about Grace's adventures out loud with you. McQuaid's books are geared for 6 to 10-year-olds and touch on important subjects. Some of her themes include:

  • Simple acts of kindness can have a profound effect on others; they can even change lives.

  • Have the courage to move forward through life's changes and trust that things will turn out well.

  • We can choose to turn uncertain situations into positive experiences.

  • The journey is an important part of every adventure.

  • Good things can happen on the “trail less traveled.”

  • Good friends remain good friends even if they don't see each other often.

  • Moving to a new place is a chance for new beginnings and the opportunity to make new, special friends.

"I believe Grace’s story will give children the courage to move through difficult times and give them hope when they are going through periods of change," she explains. "If her story can make a difference and touch even one child’s heart when we are at a reading, then I consider it a success."

Before becoming a children's book author, McQuaid traveled the world while working for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). When she retired she knew there was something more she was supposed to do with her life, so she worked with a coach to come up with a vision of what she wanted her new civilian life to be. "The vision I created was helping others, impacting the world in a positive way, spending time with Grace, and feeling joy as I worked," she says. "I didn’t know how it was going to show up, but I focused on my vision and tried to listen to what God was telling me through meditation and prayer."

"I’ve always had a heart for children, which only grew stronger when I lived in developing countries," explains McQuaid. "I was exposed to children who were living in austere conditions, and yet they were playful and kind, which just touched my heart. It made sense to me that I was meant to couple my heart for kids with Grace’s story."

Telling people about Grace and the positive impact she's had on people and recording her adventures seemed like a great way to segue into a new life for McQuaid and she thought, “What’s the worst thing that can happen? I’ll spend time chronicling Grace’s life, and that would be fun to do anyway.”

McQuaid and Grace now road-trip around the country, sometimes driving as much as 10 hours from home to do readings and meet Grace's fans. "Grace loves to road trip and she loves to connect with people, so it’s natural that we combine her love for adventure with opportunities to share the books through readings." The pair has traveled together so much, they've developed their own routine, stopping for bathroom breaks and Grace sniffing out all the new rest stops. McQuaid calls Grace her copilot. "I share in the books that Grace doesn’t sleep when we travel, and that is true. She sits in the back seat of the car and just patiently watches me while I drive and makes sure I stay awake."

Everybody Loves Grace is available at www.everybodylovesgrace.com or on Amazon.