If our readers take anything away from this website, we hope it’s the importance of access to books. We’ve written about it from various angles over the past year, like this post about placing books around your home, or this post about letting children choose their own books. Let’s approach book access from a viewpoint that might make some uncomfortable: privilege.
Book Access and Privilege
Those of us who live with privilege need only look as far as our own homes to see how access to the things we love make us happier and more fulfilled. It’s particularly true with our children. Do your kids love sports, dancing, piano, karate? If you’re financially able and have sufficient leisure time (i.e., you’re not working multiple jobs or caring for elderly relatives or any other number of hardships), then you probably sign them up for the team, take them to practices and lessons, cheer them on at their games and performances. Legos? Let’s not discuss the money many of us have dropped on those sets, for the sheer joy of watching them devour those instructions, improving their fine motor skills and creativity along the way.
Our kids are successful at these hobbies, interests, passions, however you choose to describe them, because they’ve had access to them over the course of their childhood.
They’ve been provided lots of time to play, practice, and perfect their skills. We give our children the space to try new moves, techniques, routines. We gift them the equipment they need, whether its a soccer goal in the backyard or tuning the family piano once a year.
When I shared my observation around the dinner table with my family, I made a specific connection between my son’s love of legos and my belief about access to books. My son casually said, “You need books to like books.” Just like he’s had an abundance of Legos and has fallen in love with them accordingly.
Book Access for Babies and Toddlers
Privileged kids gravitate toward certain interests because they have choice. When babies and toddlers have lots of books to choose from, they do the same. Maybe they will pick the sparkly one or the one with flaps or the one that makes noise. Some days one type of book will be more appealing. Some days they will just want to reread the same book over and over again.
Book Access for School Age Children
As our children grow up, interests change. We find ways to help cultivate that. We must do the same with book choice. If you see your child’s interest in anything begins percolating, find books. Put them in their hands, put them on the coffee table, put them next to the toilet, put them beside their bed. Don’t force them to read them. Just give them access. They are gentle reminders that these are tools that can help you complete your mission to learn more about a topic.
We are quick to make assumptions about our children and our students. We label them as non-readers when we say, “My daughter doesn’t like to read.” Your daughter probably does like to read. She just may not know what she likes to read because she hasn’t found it yet. We don’t know what we don’t know yet, right?
Book Access and Teens
Perhaps the hardest age to offer up book access in a compelling way is those tricky teenage years. Kids are busier than ever in this phase of life, with countless distractions (hello, cell phones). That said, publishers are focusing ever more attention on Young Adult books these days. Keep trying. There’s a book out there for them, and it just may help them make sense of all the changes they’re experiencing.
Consider investing in a kindle or app for their phone that allows them to download books that way. It’s a great gift at this age, and it means they may be tempted to do a little reading in between social media scrolling.
Helping Those With Less Privilege
As we’ve shared throughout this post, it’s fairly simple to offer access to books when you live a reasonably comfortable life. You can carve out time to go to the library, spend a few extra dollars adding a book or two to your Amazon cart, etc. But we know not everyone has this lifestyle. How can those of us that do help those that do not?
- Donate your books regularly to organizations that serve marginalized communities. Shelters, charity or thrift shops, etc.
- Do the children’s rooms at your church have books? If not, bring some!
- Spread the word about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. You simply sign up and your child receives free books sent to their home from birth through age 5.
- When weighing where to make donations or volunteer your time, prioritize organizations or activities that support book access. For example, we know a Big Buddy volunteer who is doing a book club with her Little. Fabulous idea!
- Consider adding a children’s book bin to your place of business (doctor’s office, government office, etc.) Any location children can often be found waiting is a great place for books to appear. Ask your hair stylist or barber if you can bring in a few kids books for the waiting room, or at your town’s laundromat, or the license branch. They may say no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
- Know someone who babysits kids? See if they need a refresh on their children’s book stash.
- Support teacher’s classroom libraries. If you don’t have children in school or don’t know how to connect with local teachers, browse Donor’s Choose.
- Engage with your elected officials about the importance of library and public education budgets. Drop them an email, send a letter, ask a question about this at the next town hall or meet the candidate night.
Having Legos at your child’s fingertips takes money. Having access to books your child is interested in, on topics they like or they want to more about, or in a genre they like doesn’t necessarily take money (just libraries!), but it does take time and your attention. You will never regret the time you spend cultivating the access your child has to books. We promise. You need books to like books.