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A Home Without Books

December 1, 2011

     For the past few weeks, I have been trying to imagine my life without books.  Books and reading have been such an important part of my life, it is impossible to imagine myself without the influence of the books I have read.  Books have been my companion in times of loneliness and boredom, a source of inspiration, food for my imagination, and a source of knowledge.  Books have opened horizons, moved me to tears, or just provided a laugh.  Even now, I am happiest when I have a good book going.  I know the power of books.  Books open worlds, both literally and metaphorically.  I could not have achieved academic success without strong reading skills.  And I cannot imagine my life without the transformative magic of literature

     My house now is full of books.  It is a joy to see my children developing their own love of books, it is a thrill to read a favorite book with them, and I can’t wait to share even more favorites with them as they grow.

   But there are many children who live in homes with few or no books, children for whom a book is rarely within arm’s reach, and children for whom books are an alien and possibly intimidating thing because they do not have any of their own. According to Reading is Fundamental (RIF), in underserved communities there can be as few as 1 book per 300 children.

     I was inspired in the summer of 2010 by an article published in the New York Times by David Brooks.    Brooks referenced a study in which disadvantaged students were given 12 books at the end of the school year for three successive years.  The students’ test scores showed higher reading scores for students receiving books and demonstrated that those students were less affected by the “summer slide.”  Brooks also cited research indicating that children growing up in homes with 500 books do better in school.  Moreover, Brooks posited that there was something powerful about book ownership itself; that children who are able to build libraries at home see themselves as readers.  Book ownership, and the ability to select books for oneself, can be transformative.  

     Inspired by this research, a friend and I spearheaded a book drive at a school located in a low-income area of our city.  We gathered approximately 2000 new and used books through a book drive, outreach to friends and family, and with the support of donations from the PTA, Oxford University Press, the non-profit Books for Kids, and two local bookstores.  We then distributed 11 books each to 120 students, offered board books for younger siblings, and established an honor-system bookshelf so that books always would be available for borrowing.

     We knew from the outset that this was an important project.  Butwe were unprepared for the overwhelming and almost uniform joy of the students.  Children were crying, laughing, and jumping up and down.  One little girl burst into tears when we told her she could keep her books forever.  Another child hugged them to her chest all the way back to her classroom.  Many were overjoyed to learn that they could pick books for younger sisters and brothers and eagerly promised to read to them.  The bookshelf we set up in school was wildly popular.

     It was an incredible feeling to know that these children were heading off to summer with books—not just one book, but thestart of their very own libraries.

     After our experience last year, we decided to expand our efforts to reach more students at more schools.  To that end, we have created Books are Magic, an all-volunteer group that seeks to put books into the hands of children who need them.

     We are launching this blog to share our love of books and reading and to underscore the importance of making sure that all children have books of their own.  We will discuss, review, and suggest children’s books; share tips for raising readers; and offer ideas for how you can help build home libraries for kids in your area.  We hope that you will join our effort, share your thoughts, and spread the word.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Eleanor permalink
    February 25, 2012 5:21 PM

    I love how you give kids that do not have books 12 books to keep! it is so nice of you to do it!

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