ST. LOUIS — At Mullanphy Elementary in St. Louis, today is one for the books.

They've traded in screen time for story time.

"We believe that reading is just the first step to every subject and being successful in school," Mullanphy Principal Kelli Casper said.

But today's storyteller isn't a teacher or even a teacher's assistant. In fact, she hasn't read to kids in quite some time.

"I'm embarrassed to say that my kids are fully grown and so it's been a couple of decades," Joan Magruder said with a laugh.

Magruder is actually the Group President of BJC Health Care.

And reading to the kids at Northview Elementary in Jennings is BJC Senior Vice-President June McCallister Fowler. 

They're both a part of the annual BJC Book Brigade, which gives a free book to more than 26,000 public school students finishing the second grade.

"If a child is reading on grade level by third grade," Fowler said, "they are much more likely to successfully finish high school and go on to that next stage of learning."

BJC buys the books with help from employee donations. Then they partner with Valley Industries, a nonprofit sheltered workshop in Hazelwood.

"And they make sure all of the books are packed and delivered to each of the districts," Fowler explained.

The BJC executives then visit schools from Boone County in Missouri to St. Clair County in Illinois to read and pass out books.

"We really see ourselves as wanting to keep people healthy, not just care for people when they're sick," Magruder told us.

Books have always been able to take us places that airplanes can't and kids soak up the pages like sponges.

This is what they told me after they were read a book called the "Pout-Pout Fish and the Bully-Bully Shark".

"What was that story about? "we asked. 

"About bullying and standing up," said a confident 8-year-old named Anthony Lanza.

"The shark was being a bully," said 8-year-old Riley Caldwell.

And what happened at the end?

"The shark wasn't a bully no more," 8-year-old Jonathan Harlow said.

And after a visit, BJC usually gets thank you notes and drawings from the students. Some believe the executives' presence is a present.

"Our students can be what they see," said Art McCoy, the Superintendent in the Jennings School District. "So when they see leaders, they can become leaders."

Consider what 8-year-old Jonathan Harlow told us about the importance of books.

"Because books take you on wonderful adventures," he said.

In the era of the internet, the BJC Book Brigade is making sure young students don't close the book on books.

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