My friend Carrie lives in South Carolina, and her family lives in Ohio. One of her nephews is learning to read, and most of the time, her family tells her, he does fine. But once in awhile when someone sits down with him, he'll throw a tantrum, act up, hit the person he's supposed to be reading to, etc. - basically, act like a boy who isn't in the mood to read.
So Carrie got the idea to have him read to her over the phone.
He's always excited to talk to her on the phone anyway, so he was happy to read to her, too. Her nephew picks the book, and they each check out a copy from their local libraries so Carrie can help him.
And in the process, they found he did a much better job reading to her than when he reads to someone in person. Perhaps it's because he feels pressured when he's reading to someone in person, or perhaps tantrums and hitting have no effect over the phone. If he's not in the mood, they just hang up, and he doesn't get the attention he normally gets when he acts that way.
Carrie said that not only has his reading has improved since they started this, but they also talk more often - a few times a week. And since they use free minutes on cell phones, it doesn't cost anything.
I've heard of libraries offering storytime-by-phone, but learning-to-read-by-phone might be too time-intensive for libraries to offer. But it's a great thing for geographically-distant relatives. I fall into that category, and in a couple years I'll try it with my nephews (but I'm still not getting a cell phone).