A study recently published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility found that just having books around the house (the more, the better) is correlated with how many years of schooling a child will complete. The study (authored by M.D.R. Evans, Jonathan Kelley, Joanna Sikorac and Donald J. Treimand) looked at samples from 27 nations, and according to its abstract, found that growing up in a household with 500 or more books is “as great an advantage as having university-educated rather than unschooled parents, and twice the advantage of having a professional rather than an unskilled father.” Children with as few as 25 books in the family household completed on average two more years of schooling than children raised in homes without any books.I started out reading comic books, then progressed quickly through teenage novels to adult works (science fiction first; later, general fiction and crime novels), and have since amassed thousands of volumes--and read many more besides. Don’t even bother trying to tell me my family’s bookish example didn’t make me the voracious reader I am today.
According to USA Today, another study, to be published later this year in the journal Reading Psychology, found that simply giving low-income children 12 books (of their own choosing) on the first day of summer vacation “may be as effective as summer school” in preventing “summer slide”--the degree to which lower-income students slip behind their more affluent peers academically every year. An experimental, federally funded program based on this research will be expanded to eight states this summer, aiming to give away 1.5 million books to disadvantaged kids.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the USA Today article comes at the very end, where one Chicago schoolteacher tells the reporter that the importance of getting books into the house “seems so simple, but parents see it differently.” They’re as “excited” as their kids are when the books come in the door. It’s not that the parents are hostile or even indifferent to books. Most likely, books and reading feel like the privilege and practice of an unfamiliar world: a resource that’s out there somewhere, but not entirely accessible.
Parents who make books available to their young children are seeding their desires for lifetime learning and promoting rich imaginations. There’s absolutely no substitute.