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Wearing a ladybug tiara and with a ladybug doll in tow, Utah's first lady Jeannette Herbert read Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad to a class of second-graders at Jackson Elementary in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.

The day's event was part of a national effort to close the achievement gap — a campaign started by Jumpstart's Read for the Record in 2006 —and to see how many children can commit to reading the same book in one day. Last year 2.2 million students across the nation read the same book during one week, and this year American children again will try to break a reading record by collectively finishing the picture book at the end of the day Thursday.

Out of the 556 elementary schools in Utah, Jackson Elementary was chosen to host the special visit because of its low-income demographics. Eighty percent of the school's students are minorities and 87 percent are at an economic disadvantage, according to information from the State Office of Education.

That's why, for low-income schools like Jackson Elementary, instilling in young students a love of reading is "critical," said Herbert.

"Once they develop that love for reading, then that carries through," Herbert said. "That doesn't leave them." An enjoyment of reading will drive students to improve their skills throughout their futures, she said.

After Herbert had read the story to teacher Karen Campagna's class, she presented the smiling students with free copies of the book. But the class wasn't the only one to receive the gift. The Pearson Foundation gave Jackson Elementary 500 copies of the book to encourage the school's students to help in breaking the world reading record.

Since the campaign started six years ago, 1 million books have been given to students from low-income neighborhoods overall.

Jackson Elementary principal Joyce Gray said the day's experience was an inspiration for the young readers. And in a school with 33 percent English language learners, the emphasis on reading and learning to love reading is needed and appreciated, she said.

"The more you read the more you know," Gray said. "That's just the way of life. It opens up so many doors for you. Once you know how to read you can take on the world."

Gray also said she was impressed by how attentive the 7- and 8-year-old students were to Herbert. They listened, comprehended and responded to all her questions, she said.

Herbert had the same impression. "It's just delightful to see them respond and see how they really do love these storybooks. ... They love to get lost in their own imaginations, and that's a lot of what books do — they carry you away into a different world," Herbert said.

She added it was fun to see first-hand how dedicated the teachers are to their students.

"That really does my heart good to see that our education system really is engaged and doing the right things," she said.

Twitter: @justiola

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