Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ownership of Books Eases Poverty?

        Having books in the home is said to offset the affects of poverty.  I have seen several 'studies' that say just having books can make the difference. Salon said that having five hundred books in your home can be a greater indicator of success for a child than if that child's father had a professional level job.  I suspect there may be some missing data here.

        I have also read that poor families do not have books because books cost money.  I was thinking about the library in my home and in my friends' homes.  All of us buy books.  We don't buy them because we like stacks of thinly sliced dead tree lying around our homes.     Gee, that sound kind of gruesome. No, I do not buy books due to a pathological hatred of trees.

      Books are not laying around on the floor of my space as a totem to ward away the evil specters of my children not getting an education.  I don't even buy books because I enjoy the physical act of reading.  I read because I enjoy learning about whatever new thing I am interested in at that time. When I have excess funds, I am likely to buy something new to read.  I can't imagine how much poorer my life would be if I couldn't afford a new book every month of two.

      Going back to the studies they seem to indicate that just having books in the house could make the difference.  If that were the case I suppose these people would be raising the next Tesla.
*Not my actual den.

      Of course, we know this is likely not the case.  I remember several years ago stumbling on a studies that if children see their mother reading they will grow up to be literate.  I can provide anecdotal evidence to corroborate the study but I also worked with my children to help them gain literacy skills. SO what is the secret connection to books and literacy? These studies lead to the question.

       Is it just a matter of having books in the home or do the books need to be used?

       If possession were the issue, would a nice picture of a bookcase be a workable substitute?  I, of course, do not believe it is as simple as owning books.  I believe there are behaviors that accompany book ownership which skew the findings.

       It seems evident that people who love and collect books over time collect them to be read and enjoyed. They spend money on books because they value the education they receive from reading. People collect books on subjects they love and want to learn more about.  This type of literature is what professional teachers call high interest reading. Children learn to love books and get to read books they want to read.  Children need access to high interest books and Dolly Parton stepped up to help.

       Dolly Parton has become a personal hero for many because of her Imagination Library.  She provides beautiful free books that come in the mail for children from birth to age 5.  These books are available to anyone who has a child in this age range in Tennessee.  With the help of partnering organization she is helping community champions set up this program for the local youngsters in other areas. If you would like to register for books or champion an Imagination Library in your area here is a link to her site:  I would love to see her program replicated all over the globe.

       Her books make a difference to the children who receive them.  Every month a book comes in the mail addressed to the child.  The books are new and have that wonderful new book smell.  The kids are so excited I imagine the majority of them find an adult to read it to them in short order.  Then they have the book to keep.  They learn the basics of handling a book. Which way is right side up, which direction the pages turn. They might learn the words contain the meaning or they might even come to recognize some words.  Exposure to this learning activity can make a profound difference for these children.  It puts them ahead of the children who have never seen or held a book. It also teaches them that receiving a new book is an event to be celebrated! The change in attitude toward books from neutral to gift is a great by-product of her work.

       A study, which will be published later this year in the Journal of Reading Psychology, indicates providing poor children with as few as 12 books at the beginning of Summer break can prevent Summer slide.  The caveat is the books must be chosen by the children not assigned by the authority, which brings us back around to high interest literature. The emotional connection, the wanting to read because you choose to, seem to be the unifying theme.

      So what if you want to expose your children to high interest literature but cannot read well.  There are free recorded books available on  These books have aged into the public domain and are recorded by volunteers.  It's a free service but the youngest book dates back to the 1930s.  What if you need something more current. is offering 2 free audio books at their website.  Here is a link: The Pubic Library also has audio books to loan and they can get you any book you want to read.

       I love recorded books because I can listen while I drive.  Last Summer we listened to an old radio recording of the Adventures of Superman and A Wrinkle in Time.  My kids enjoyed both and we would talk about the stories when we took breaks.  It's a very nice way to pass time on the road.

       Because of these studies people may recommend that you give old books to soup kitchens and poverty schools.  I think that is a nice first step. If you are a book hoarder you should definately thin your supply this way.  It would be even better if we helped impoverished young people get access to books that would interest them.  It would also be helpful to raise the wage so less people were in poverty in America and they could then buy more books.

      If you know of other free resources to help people get access to free literature please sent us a note and don't forget to follow our blog so you can be sure to stay up to date with our weekly posts.

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