MAPLETON, Utah County — When Meg Frost reads to children, she comes alive.
And she usually gets the same response from the kids.
"It's always a big hit," said her husband, Corbin Frost. "She'll ask them to touch things and pretend to pick flowers on the page."
The BYU librarian's animated and encompassing nature involving books and kids comes naturally to her — enough so that she's repeatedly requested by kids at family gatherings and various church functions.
And since marrying a professional illustrator/artist earlier this year, Meg has found a way to help nearly anyone have as much fun as she has reading with children.
"Kids don't always understand the words in a story, but when they can link those words and pictures on the page with receiving a response from their parents, they can enjoy something important together," she said.
"The fun of it comes off the page," Corbin added.
The duo, of Mapleton, has co-authored a new children's book, expected to be published later this year and on sale before Christmas, if they get the funds they need to continue with the project.
They're calling it "Pictivities," as pictures inside the book inspire active reactions from the reader and the child.
"I just love doing something that will make them laugh and smile and giggle and squeal," Meg said. "I think it is very bonding between me and the child."
That bond, created by repeated human interaction between a parent and a child, can produce more results than enhanced literacy abilities. It can have effects on interpersonal relationships and mental health that are long-lasting, according to Jeremy Stoddard, a Boise psychiatrist familiar with the Frosts' project.
"Even something like pretending together, interacting even with regular sensations like hot or cold, give children words to use to communicate," he said, adding that those words help kids realize that other people can understand them and what they're feeling. "It teaches them how to deal with pain, stress and even happiness."
Stoddard said a solid relationship with an "attachment figure," such as mom or dad, can help kids enjoy being around other people into adulthood.
Disruptions in that relationship, he said, can give kids a higher chance of developing mental illness when they're older.
"Learning to empathize, express emotions and put words with them gives them better resilience against the stress of being a human," Stoddard said.
"Pictivities" gives parents clear instructions on how to interact in a positive way with children, making it easier for most readers to form that important bond. It is, in some ways, more important than building an appreciation for books, Stoddard said.
"Literacy is not the biggest benefit from reading with young children," he said. "It's the relationship."
A recent policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages daily reading with children, beginning as early as infancy, as early development is critical for lifelong success.
"All families need to hear the important message that reading aloud to their children is crucial, especially in an era in which competing entertainment imperatives, such as screen time (television, cinema, video games and computers), may limit family interactions and live language exposures of even very young children," according to the policy statement. "It directly affects language development, a major factor in school readiness, during the critical period of early brain development.
"Reading aloud with young children is one of the most effective ways to expose them to enriched language and to encourage specific early literacy skills needed to promote school readiness."
The Frosts have estimated they'll need $12,000 for an initial printing of 5,000 board books, which are aimed at capturing the imagination of kids ages 12 months to about 5 years old. However, any age could enjoy it, Corbin said.
To launch the project, the couple is using the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to hopefully garner enough donations to make their goal. From there, the books will be printed and sent to all who donate, or, if donors would rather, to the library at The Road Home emergency family shelter or the YWCA's Women in Jeopardy shelter as a charitable donation.
While Corbin has experience working for a major children's book publisher in Los Angeles, he said it is difficult breaking into a fairly saturated market. But he and his wife are certain "Pictivities," which will be developed into a series upon funding completion, will be different.
"They're fun first," Corbin said, adding that books that are exciting to read help promote literacy. "We want to make it easier for parents to have this kind of fun, emotive interaction with their kids."
To learn more about "Pictivities" or to make a donation, visit www.pictivities.com.
The Kickstarter campaign will run for 30 days, and any donations pledged won't be charged from donors until it is over. And since the website functions on an all-or-nothing policy, the Frosts won't get anything unless all $12,000 is earned.
"Interaction is huge," Meg said. "Kids, of course, love playing with an app, but they respond so much more and so much better when it is an actual human, especially a parent. Kids seem to prefer someone to give them actual interaction."