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Book Ownership Matters

March 14, 2012
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Do you remember a book you loved as a child? One you kept on a bedside table or a bookshelf within easy reach? One you read over and over until the cover fell off? Have you come across any of those books as an adult and opened it up to find your own name, written in childish scrawl, inside the cover? Are there books your own child cherishes? What does it mean to a child to own a book?

As I watched my daughter carefully selecting bookplates for her most beloved books and writing her name in her very best handwriting, I could remember labeling my own books as a child, some with a desperate “If found please return to” with address and phone number. A favorite book is a treasure, and owning that treasure is intangibly important.

Research bears this out. The number of books in a child’s home correlates with the amount of schooling they will complete. And there is something powerful about becoming a person who owns books. RIF notes that the power to select books for oneself provide dignity, autonomy, and empowerment.

Last year, we witnessed the unbridled joy of children as they became book owners. Upon learning that they could keep their books forever, several children teared up, others jumped up and down with delight. All of these memories underscore the power of becoming a book owner. But another child stands out in my mind. One third grade boy, almost giddy with being able to select a bag full of books for himself, looked for the largest book he could find and ultimately selected the Pickwick Papers, more than 700 pages of advanced-level reading. The book was way above this child’s reading level. Yet this Dickens classic was the most important book he chose—he told all his friends that he had a book with 700 pages, and when he got to take his books home, he pulled out the Pickwick Papers and caressed it. I do not know when he will be able to read it to himself, but I know he is eager for that day to come. And I know meant a great deal to him to become the owner of such a book.

Some studies show that in low-poverty areas, there may be as few as 1 book per 300 children or that more than 60 percent of low-income families have no age-appropriate books in their homes.

Owning a book matters.

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