EVART — Kindergarten and third grade students at Evart Elementary School are enjoying a new book to help improve reading and comprehension skills.

The classes were two out of 740 applicants to receive the Michigan Department of Education’s Culture of Reading program grant, which provided more than 33,000 copies of "Acoustic Rooster and his Barnyard Band," the 2014 Michigan Reads! Book of the Year. Each student was able to take home their own personal copy.

"It's very exciting to be selected," said third grade teacher Valerie Hopkins. "There are a lot of students who don't have a lot of books, so I wanted to apply for the grant. I know the need our kids have with practicing reading at home. I'm really thankful we were chosen."

Hopkins presented the books to her students on Jan. 22 and received excited comments from each child while they flipped through the colorful pages. She believes the books, and their relatable subject of farm animals, will encourage students to practice reading it on their own and improve their skills.

Increasing reading skills is one of the top priorities for Evart Elementary School students, according to principal Sarah Bailey, who also expressed her excitement regarding the awards. Like Hopkins, she believes the reading material will assist with the goal.

"I'm thrilled that we received these grants," Bailey added. "I think our teachers will use the books wisely."

Culture of Reading awards were given to 23 kindergarten classrooms, 23 first grade classrooms, 21 second grade classrooms, 24 third grade classrooms and 24 early childhood programs. Awards were granted on the basis of meeting grant criteria, including a commitment to providing the children with evidence-based reading instruction and family engagement activities focused on literacy.

“There are too many people, including children and adults, who cannot read,” said MDE State Superintendent Mike Flanagan. “We need that to change. To help build a culture of reading in Michigan, we need to get books in their hands and in their homes."

For more information about the Michigan Department of Education’s Culture of Reading program, visit michigan.gov/cultureofreading.