Make Book Oases, Not Book Deserts

As a child, books seemed to be everywhere. I remember going to the supermarket with my mother, and as she headed down the aisles, I headed to the checkout counter, grabbed an Archie digest and read to my heart’s content. By the time my mother was ready to check out, I had read one whole comic and had another unread one in my hand for her to purchase. 

At home, I stashed books in secret places—under folded towels in the linen closet, behind the cleaning supplies under the sink, and in a boot in the coat closet—as if fearing a book apocalypse. I wanted to make sure that I could always find a book nearby.  To this day I still stash emergency reading material in my bag and on all my electronic devices. I live delightedly tangled in text.

That’s why the latest research about “book deserts” hit me so hard. Researchers went out to six different communities to analyze how accessible books were in the area. The results are stark. In high-income communities, books are common. Available in chain bookstores, boutiques and toy stores, researchers found 13 titles for every child. However, in high-poverty communities, there was about one book for every 300 children. Hence, the term “book desert”—a vast area where books are rare.

Often schools play a major role in providing access to books—especially for children from low-income homes. The Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report found that 61% percent of children ages 6–17 from the lowest-income homes say they read for fun mostly in school. Only 32% of kids from the highest-income homes say the same. But what happens when schools are closed? Where do children go to bump into a potential best friend book that can be read over and over while spurring a child to read other books?

Books need to be in those spaces and places frequented by children and families: at the doctor’s office, at the park and yes, in the grocery store, so that children can develop the love of reading.  Working with communities to help all children have access to books—all year round—is everyone’s responsibility. More and more, organizations are stepping up to give children access to texts. Enter, Barbershop Books, run by Alvin Irby.

Barbershop Books works to turn local barbershops in reading retreats for children. While children wait, they can check out a great book from the bookcase and, when they are done, they can talk to the barbers about the book—having a true community reading experience. With a staple of beloved Scholastic books, Barbershop Books helps children to become “Well groomed. Well read.” Learn more here: https://barbershopbooks.org/

Books breathe life into communities and we need to be creative in how we support increasing access. For myself as a child, books were alongside the necessities of life at the grocery store. Where are they in your community?