Can you imagine not owning a book? Not even one book?
Hard as it is to believe, millions of children in the United States cannot call even one book their own. While a middle-class child has approximately 13 books, there’s only one book floating around a low-income neighborhood of 300 children.
To correct this inadequacy, First Book, a non-profit organization, provides free books to children who, for economic reasons, do not have books in their homes.
What’s the big deal?
The only variable that correlates significantly with reading scores is the number of books in the home. Unfortunately, 61 percent of low-income families have no books at all in their homes—either for parents or their children.
More than 14.5 million American children live below the poverty line. Their parents do not buy books with the little money they have, so these children score poorly on reading tests. Children who can’t read grow into adults who can’t read—adults with low-paying jobs.
According to First Book, nearly half the adults who can’t read live in poverty. In contrast, only 4 percent of adults with strong literacy skills live in poverty. Can we safely conclude reading is key to increased economic security?
How they do it
First Book volunteers work with local literacy programs to distribute new books to children least likely to get them.
For example, in New Hanover County, North Carolina, where I live, First Book has brought more than 7,500 books to the Community Boys & Girls Club of Wilmington, the YWCA, Cape Fear Literacy Council, the Children’s Museum TREKS program, the Hillcrest Reading Program, plus elementary and middle schools across the county.
Since its inception 20 years ago, First Book has distributed more than 65 million books to children nationwide. All were bought with donations from people who understood the importance of literacy.
The free books children receive cost First Book just $2 each. Twenty bucks buys 10 books. Ten children who never had a brand new book get the tome of their choice.
If you’re the generous person who provided the $20, you get a tax deduction and a really good feeling. Just two Benjamins will put 10 books in the hands of children eager to read, eager to learn, eager to explore the world from the pages of a book.
How you do it
Go to www.firstbook.org for more information on the First Book program. Learn how to get free books for children in your school or after-school program or how to donate books.
People like to witness their money at work, so see if there’s a First Book chapter in your city or county like the one in mine (www.firstbook.org/newhanovercounty).
Think of the first book you read by yourself. Think of all the books you received for Christmas or Hanukkah or as birthday presents. Maybe your mom bought you books just because you asked for them. Think how lucky you were. And still are.