If you are reading this, congratulations! You most likely do not live in a book desert.

Book deserts are typically low-income areas where books are difficult to obtain. Incredibly, in the United States, book deserts abound and more than 32 million children go without books, according to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). With daily reports of political conflicts, the climate crisis, the pandemic, human rights violations, and more, it’s easy to get overwhelmed (especially when you’re doom scrolling on social media, as we all tend to do sometimes). We are, simply put, surrounded by problems. With everything going on, why should we care about book deserts and, more specifically, the effect they have on underprivileged young children? Well, no matter how different we may be, we all want to live in a better world.

It’s often repeated that literacy is the ladder out of poverty. However, as AFT president Randi Weingarten has noted, “45% of our nation’s children live in neighborhoods that lack public libraries and stores that sell books, or in homes where books are an unaffordable or unfamiliar luxury.” It is clear that book deserts are having a devastating effect on literacy in the U.S. The National Assessment of Educational Progress found in 2019 that 65% of children in 4th grade do not read at a proficient level. Since the U.S. Department of Education states that students who report having more books at home are more likely to be proficient at reading, it is quite evident there is a correlation between access to books and literacy outcomes.

Okay, so by now you are probably thinking, “This makes sense, but what can I do about such a daunting, overwhelming issue? I am just one person and don’t have an organization or lots of money to do anything about book deserts.” But you can actually make a huge difference in the life of a preschool-age child with just one book!

This past March, I completed a project where I gave one new book to every single child enrolled in Head Start programs in my home state of West Virginia ( that’s 6,778 children in total). For those of you who may not be familiar, Head Start is the federal preschool program for children who come from families that live at or below the poverty line. For these families, buying new books is an unaffordable expense since just getting by day to day can be a struggle. Many don’t have time to visit libraries and, since the children enrolled in Head Start are between the ages of 3-5, they are too young to visit libraries and check out books themselves.

Because I used a combination of my own savings and fundraising, I only had enough funds to purchase one book for each child, so I knew the one I chose had to count. I consulted with preschool directors and carefully chose books from a recommended list of favorite titles most used and loved in the classrooms. The final choices included classics like Pete the Cat, The Mitten, and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. I traveled throughout the state handing out a new book from this list to every Head Start child. The program directors told me many of the children didn’t have one book at home and were ecstatic to take home one of their very own.



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