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Want to Boost Literacy? Make It Easy for Kids to Get Books

Photo: Courtesy of Jenks East Elementary
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Margret Aldrich

Program Manager, Little Free Library

When children grow up in book-rich environments, literacy rates and academic success can skyrocket. But for many kids, books are hard to come by. In a growing movement, educators are getting creative in how they increase access to books, beyond the school library.

A world without books

Research shows book access is key to academic performance — especially for children living in low-income areas. In fact, access to books is cited as the number-one predictor of a child’s ability to thrive in school. Unfortunately, kids in underserved areas are hit hardest by book scarcity. Two out of 3 children living in poverty have no books of their own.

Overall literacy rates in America are equally alarming: 34 percent of children entering kindergarten lack the basic skills needed to learn how to read and 63 percent of fourth graders read below grade level.

Add books to the home environment, however, and the effect is remarkable. A child who comes from a home with just 25 books will, on average, complete two more years of school than a child from a home devoid of books.

Book access 24/7

In Oklahoma, Jenks East Elementary is making it easier for kids to get their hands on books. The school hosts a Little Free Library — a community book exchange offering books that can be returned or kept at home forever. It was provided by the Little Free Library nonprofit organization’s Impact Library Program, a donor-driven initiative that grants Little Free Libraries full of books to communities where they can increase reading motivation.

“As a large elementary school in a suburban community, Jenks East Elementary may not be the first location one might consider for a Little Free Library,” said principal J. Ryan Glaze. “Our school campus has three libraries and we are less than two miles from a city library location. But here’s the beauty of a Little Free Library: It takes nothing away from these wonderful literacy resources that already exist in our community, while adding a simple and organic option for increased access and exploration.” 

Accessibility and inclusion are two of the hallmarks of Jenks’ Little Free Library book exchange. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it provides books for readers of all abilities and backgrounds with no obstacles, complementing the traditional school and public libraries. 

“Our school serves approximately 1,600 Pre-K through 4th grade students, and is wonderfully diverse with approximately 30 languages spoken in our families’ homes,” Glaze said. “Many of our families have found their way to the Little Free Library as a fun and non-threatening endeavor. Our Little Free Library is a small landmark that has made a big impression on our school community, and we’re so thankful to have it as an available resource to those we serve!”

Books for all

On the other side of the world in Khartoum, Sudan, activist Malaz Khojali uses community book exchanges to provide book access where there are no school or public libraries.

“I started these Little Free Libraries because I want to help develop reading skills in Sudan through the sharing of books,” she said. “I love seeing the joy on a kid’s face when they take a book!”

When we find innovative ways to increase book access, children benefit. As Little Free Library stewards like Glaze and Kholjali have found, community book exchanges can be tools to reach more readers. With them, we can ensure every child has a book to call their own. Learn how you can help spread the joy and power of reading through Little Free Library book exchanges at LittleFreeLibrary.org.

Margret Aldrich, Program Manager, Little Free Library, u[email protected]

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