A Dubuque, Iowa, barber is interested in cutting two things: hair, and childhood illiteracy.

Courtney Holmes, 45, has come up with a “novel” way to encourage kids to read. He offers a free haircut to children who will read to him while he snips, shapes and trims their hair.

“I’m the barbershop guy,” Holmes told LifeZette with a laugh. “’Come on and read to me,’ I tell the kids. ‘We can be cool, we can hang out – but let’s do it reading a book!’”

Credit: people.com
Hard at work (credit: people.com)

“It’s awesome,” Spark Salon owner Amanda Trotman shared with LifeZette. “It’s exciting to see the children come in and look through the books we have here, and pick one out. They get so excited to come in and read.”

She added, “Haircuts can be very scary for kids. If they are distracted by reading to Courtney, it makes the whole experience less frightening.”

Why has a barber gotten involved in reading? For Holmes, good things start at home.

“I have two sons, and I read them two to three books every night,” he said. “Reading is so important.”

When kids are in his barbershop chair clutching a book, he is part barber, part teacher, helping them sound out words and checking their comprehension. As each child finishes reading the book, this dedicated barber asks the newly shorn reader what the book was about. And he waits for the answer.

Holmes is onto something. A recent study entitled “Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation,” found that one in six children who are not reading proficiently in the third grade does not graduate from high school on time. That’s a rate four times greater than that of proficient readers.

Holmes learned to read from his father, a Baptist preacher.

Who do you think would win the Presidency?

By completing the poll, you agree to receive emails from LifeZette, occasional offers from our partners and that you've read and agree to our privacy policy and legal statement.

Additionally, the rates are highest for the low, below-basic readers: Twenty-three percent of these children drop out or fail to finish high school on time, compared to 9 percent of children with basic reading skills and 4 percent of proficient readers, the report says.

Holmes learned to read from his father, a Baptist preacher. He moved to Iowa from Chicago a year ago, and realized he could make a difference at a community-sponsored back-to-school event, where children stood in line for a chance to read aloud to Holmes and get a cool new look for school.

Holmes brought in his own books initially, but donations of books have started coming in to support the cause.

He cut hair for four hours straight at the event, and ended up handing out coupons to kids to come on over and see him at the salon.

“Come on over and see me, and the cut is free,” he promised the young readers.

Now, due to popular demand, the salon is set to offer “Read with the Barber” on the first Tuesday of every month, for grades K-6. Holmes hopes the idea will spread throughout the country.

“I have talked to barber friends, and they want to do this too,” he said.

Holmes brought in his own books initially, but donations of books have started coming in to support the cause. There are books available for every grade level, and Holmes keeps a watchful eye on each child before he climbs into the chair. He’s ready to help pick out an age-appropriate title.

“Some parents are stressed, for whatever reason,” he said. “It’s hard to come home after a long day of work. Maybe you’re a single parent, you’ve got to do so much for the family, and reading just comes last. But the community can do a lot to fill in gaps and support kids, by being creative.”