“Don’t Got No Books at Home”

Josie Leavitt -- July 20th, 2010

Every once in a while I am reminded that not everyone has books at home. Yesterday was that day.  Our store is in Shelburne, Vermont, a somewhat affluent town in Chittenden County. I naively assume that everyone who wants them, has them. I know this sounds ridiculous, but sometimes I forget that books are not in every home.

One of my favorite teachers came in yesterday. Jen gets to know all of her students, whether they’re in her regular class during the year, or in her enrichment class during the summer. She handpicks books after getting to know the students. We were talking a mile a minute, pulling books as she spoke, until she came to Lewis. She paused after saying his name and touched her hand to her heart and said, “I asked him what were his favorite books from home. And he said ‘Don’t got no books at home.’ ”

We both just stood there. No books at home.

I couldn’t imagine what that would be like. I told Jen when she came back later in the week, I’d have some galleys for her to share with him. This situation, sadly, is repeated in homes all over the country. While I can’t do something for every child who needs it, I can do what I can do in my part of the world.  Galleys are great, but they are not the solution for all the kids who need books.

I remembered about First Book, the organization whose sole mission is to get books into the hands of children who don’t have books at home. First Book provides young children with books, as does Reach Out and Read, which works with pediatricians all over the country. The need for books for kids under age six is great and these two organizations do a great job at getting books to these kids. But older kids still need books.

Reading Is Fundamental fills the void nicely. They work to get books to any child who needs them. Our store works with RIF annually by having an in-store book donation drive. Customers got a discount for any book they donated to RIF. This is a win-win for everyone.

So, as I pack up a box of galleys for Jen to share with Lewis and others in her class who need them, I am heartened that there are organizations available to kids who need and want books. If there are other organizations that distribute books and I’ve omitted them, please let me know and I can add them.

27 thoughts on ““Don’t Got No Books at Home”

  1. churchill downs

    I work in a public library in Colorado, running an outreach program called the Traveling Children’s Library. We bring bilingual storytime programs and a deposit collection of books to almost 80 preschool classrooms throughout Jefferson County. We target schools with low-income, at risk children, like Head Start and Colorado Preschool Program. My favorite time of year is the end of the school year, though, when I get to give each of the almost 1400 kids I see each month a brand new book to take home and keep. Our program is funded by the Jefferson County Library Foundation and they make sure we have some money to purchase these special books each year (although, like many programs, we’ve really had to make it stretch this year. But we did it!) Every year, a few kids ask, “do I get to keep it forever?” “Yes,” I say. “Forever and ever?” they ask, eyes wide with awe. Getting their own book, to keep forever and ever, means SO much to these kids.

    First Book, RIF, Reach Out and Read, an my own Traveling Children’s Library are all working feverishly to create that love of books and reading that leads to children becoming readers and productive, successful members of society. These programs, as well as other organizations focusing on early childhood literacy, deserve and NEED our support.

  2. shannon hale

    Each year, children’s writers in Utah hold a one day writing workshop to earn money for charity. This year includes an evening event and all the money we make will go to buying books for kids. We have several low-income schools and want to give at least one book to every kid in those schools. We buy highly discounted books, and in this case, I can say, Hooray for Remainders! http://www.writingforcharity.com/

  3. jennifer groff

    In the Ithaca, NY area, the organization Family Reading Partnership (www.familyreading.org) has an extensive book giveaway program that includes books at child wellness visits, books when children enter pre-K and kindergarten, and “bright red bookshelves” throughout the community (at the grocery store, courthouse, etc) where children can choose a book and take it home to keep (and others can drop off/donate gently used or new children’s books).
    Even with all that, there are still children who told me (at an elementary school) that they didn’t have any books at home, and that is what saddens and troubles me — that families either are so resistant to print culture or simply lack the wherewithal to take advantage of resources that exist. that is hardest to overcome…

  4. Lisa Yee

    Earlier this year I was the guest of the Castroville Rotary Club in Northern California. Prior to my visit, the local Rotary Club bought one of my books for every 6th grader in the school district. Then I spoke at each middle school and signed every book. It was a wonderful experience, not just for the kids . . . but for me. For many it was the first time they owned the book. And for all, it was the first time an author had come to their school.

  5. Mary

    “Don’t got no books at home” Certainly tears at the heart… this is why I am so passionate about what we at Star Bright Books provide for Literacy programs. We publish in 20 languages and provide a significant discount for literacy organizations to purchase books to give away. A Huge Thank you to Reach Out & Read, Reading is Fundamental and all the other literacy organizations like them, that work tirelessly to provide books to children in need!!!

    1. Ilona

      I would like to obtain a list of the children’s books that Star Bright Books publishes in spanish for children ages 4-12. I went to Honduras in June with a Medical Brigade that included a children’s program. We brought some books with us for read alouds and it was quite successful. However, I had some difficulty finding quality children’s literature in spanish, especially those depicting the spanish culture and folk tales. I am familiar with only a handful of hispanic authors. I would appreciate any help or information you can give. Thanks!

      1. Susan

        Hello Ilona, I recommend Children’s Book Press (SF, CA), Groundwood Books (Toronto, Canada), Cinco Puntos Press (El Paso, TX), to name a few great independent publishers of bilingual folktales and contemporary picture books and fiction. Check out the ALA website too for the Pura Belpre’ award-winning titles.

  6. Erica Perl

    Hi Josie!
    Thanks for mentioning First Book as well as our great friends RIF and ROR. One thing booksellers (and other book-centric people) can do to help is to tell all programs and schools serving children in need to register with First Book at http://www.firstbook.org (can you activate the link in your post as well?). This opens up a pipeline of free and affordable brand new books and materials to children through the programs and schools that serve them. Literacy programs can (and do) register with First Book, but so can soup kitchens, afterschool programs, church-based groups, you name it… they just have to serve children in need and want to share books with them. More books to kids… that’s what we’re all about. Thanks again for helping us spread the word!
    Erica Perl
    Director, First Book Marketplace and National Book Bank
    (and author of books including DOTTY… for which I’ll be seeing you, Elizabeth and all my Vermont pals soon, Josie!)

  7. Ms. B

    I am a media specialist in Minnesota. Read Indeed is another organization that collects and distributes books to needy children in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and suburbs. It was started by Maria Keller, a book-loving 4th grader who wants to make the world a better place—one book at a time. She wants to collect and distribute 1 million books to needy kids by the time she’s 18.
    To learn more visit http://www.readindeed.org

  8. Mary Kuehner

    I work in a public library in Colorado, running an outreach program called the Traveling Children’s Library. We bring bilingual storytime programs and a deposit collection of books to almost 80 preschool classrooms throughout Jefferson County. We target schools with low-income, at risk children, like Head Start and Colorado Preschool Program. My favorite time of year is the end of the school year, though, when I get to give each of the almost 1400 kids I see each month a brand new book to take home and keep. Our program is funded by the Jefferson County Library Foundation and they make sure we have some money to purchase these special books each year (although, like many programs, we’ve really had to make it stretch this year. But we did it!) Every year, a few kids ask, “do I get to keep it forever?” “Yes,” I say. “Forever and ever?” they ask, eyes wide with awe. Getting their own book, to keep forever and ever, means SO much to these kids.

    First Book, RIF, Reach Out and Read, an my own Traveling Children’s Library are all working feverishly to create that love of books and reading that leads to children becoming readers and productive, successful members of society. These programs, as well as other organizations focusing on early childhood literacy, deserve and NEED our support.

  9. Alison's Book Marks

    Thank you for your post. It breaks my heart to think of a home without books.

    Growing up, my parents had very little money, but my dad always told my mom, “We don’t say no to books.” We didn’t have new clothes, we never had the latest toy or doll, but they somehow found the money to buy us the books we loved. I loved my books then, just as I love my books now. The economy is rough right now for all of us, and we try very hard to follow my dad’s rule, “We don’t say no to books.” I am blessed to have bookshelves overflowing in my children’s rooms, and I have passed on my good fortune by donating to RIF. I hope anyone that can…does.

  10. Rasco from RIF

    Far too often RIF hears the words that are hurting us all in this excellent posting “Don’t got no books at home.” Founded in 1966, RIF continue sto see to motivate children to read by working with them, their parents, and community members to make reading a fun and beneficial part of everyday life. Our highest priority is reaching underserved children from birth to age 8. Through community volunteers in every state and U.S. territory, RIF provided 4.4 million children with 15 million new, free books and literacy resources last year. We appreciate your inclusion of RIF and look forward to visiting with your readers on ways we might partner to make sure there are books at home for every child!

  11. Laurel Book Store

    It puts the whole digital “book” scenario in perspective for me when I think of all the kids who don’t own books. They aren’t rushing out to buy an ereader or ebooks no matter the price. Numerous studies have showed that ACCESS to BOOKS is the greatest indicator of literacy and success in school. That alone keeps me going many days when I see the esales figures trumpeted and my book sales falter.

  12. Spencer Humphrey

    FIRST BOOK has placed more than 65 million books in the hands of children who would not otherwise have them. The books are brand new, age-appropriate and treasured by the recipient children. In low-income neighborhoods there is an average of only one book for every 300 children, compared to 13 books for every child in middle-income neighborhoods. Thank you for highlighting this tremendous need and some of the great organizations who are dedicated to addressing it.

  13. Kym Lucas

    I work in a public library, and it always amazes me when people say that they are no longer necessary because “you can get anything off the Internet now.”

    In the first place, a book on the Internet is not the same as one you can hold in your hand (which is where public libraries come in), and, in the scond, not everyone has access to the Internet at home (a void public libraries also try to fill).

    “Don’t got no books at home.” The student’s words make me want to cry because, the reality is that many of the people who most need the public library’s resources are unfamiliar with their availablity.

  14. Jean Reidy

    Your post couldn’t be more timely. I just returned from an orphanage/school in Uganda where books are scarce (and where kids crave them) to a meeting with our local Colorado director for Reach Out and Read. What a simple yet significant organization. And it’s surprising how many American kids don’t have books. I’ve seen several households living below the poverty line that have gaming systems but no book. We need to continue the message of reading’s direct tie to academic and life success and continue to get books into the hands of kids in these situations. Also check out Better World Books.

    Thanks so much for this post!!!

  15. Miriam at Lee & Low Books

    Where I grew up, the toy shelf that provided Christmas presents to local kids whose families couldn’t afford them worked with the bookstore where I worked (Lift Bridge Book Shop in Brockport, NY) so that each kid got two presents—one toy and one book. We’d raise money from November on, then have some Scout troops of various ages come pick out the books that would go to the toy shelf, then the parents/grandparents/guardians of qualifying kids would go pick out the presents. It still required parental/guardian involvement, but it did get books to kids who probably wouldn’t get them otherwise.

    1. Pat

      Hi Miriam,
      That awesome program was started years ago by a bookstore with too much holiday inventory. I think it was ‘That Bookstore.’ The program, called the Gift Angel, was picked up and supported by both Harper and Workman. It is pretty simple to implement, brings people into the store and is appreciated by recipients and donors alike.
      Pat

      1. Kate

        Our local churches work together every year to give food and gifts to needy families at Christmas, and we added books a few years ago. I usually get to choose them, and recently we switched to remainders, which lets us do hardcovers for paperback pricing. I strongly encourage everyone to partner bookstores and holiday charity groups, it’s a great fit.

  16. Kat B

    I remember RIF as a kid! *sigh* That was my favorite time of the year. A whole section of the library with the tables filled with books, and we each got to go in and pick one–for free! It was the hardest and most wonderful decision of the year, right up there with making your Christmas list.

    I am really glad to hear that program is still going!

  17. Word of Mouse Books

    If kids can’t afford to have books at home then they most certainly can’t afford to go digital. Very true!
    What can we do in our own communities, individually to ensure that all kids have books at home. Studies have shown that kids that have books at home identify themselves as “readers” and do better in school and in life. Books are the portals to learning, how can we ensure no kid gets left behind?
    Stacey

    1. Mary Kuehner

      Stacey,

      The short answer is: read aloud to young children in your life, and encourage others to do the same. I talk about the importance of reading aloud to a child, from birth, with anyone and everyone who will listen. I am passionate about it, and will not shut up about it. Encourage visits to the public library, where books are free to borrow and regular storytimes are fun and promote early literacy skills learning. Support programs like those mentioned here, as well as your local public library! Hold a book drive to get books into the hands of the kids who don’t have them!

      Let’s start a read-aloud revolution!

  18. Geoffrey Hughes

    Lewis’ situation is all too common. But another situation is the child who has neither books nor a home. Here in the Washington DC area we are fortunate to have the good work of The Reading Connection of Arlington, VA, which works with at-risk families in shelters, community centers, and other sites. Through a small staff and with the help of over 150 volunteers, they provide read-aloud programs and a book club, as well as training family support workers. Much of this work is bi-lingual. Please take a look at their website.

  19. Karen Schwabach

    Tennessee has Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library book distribution, where every child in the state is sent a different book each month from birth to age five.

    As a teacher I often found it was hard to get parents to believe in the efficacy of reading to their kids. But when books are sent to children who are too young to read, the parents (or somebody) reading to the kid is the only use to which the book can be put… a pretty cool idea.

  20. Cindy Brewer

    I am part of a group at our church called the Book Buddies. For the past seven summers we have taken books to children in eastern Kentucky who have no books of their own at all. The children are so excited to receive books to keep. There are many small groups doing things like this in addition to the big programs.

  21. melanie hope greenberg

    With all the “wars” going on between digital and paper, we forget about those that fall between the cracks and cannot afford either. Paper books have better access of getting into their hands. To think digital is the only way to read for the future is elitist, and not wise, for the grid does goes down (on occasion).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *