During our own childhood, many of our greatest pleasures were found in books, both function and non-fiction.
Books gave us inspiration as well as solace, and they’ve remained a constant in our life ever since.
But for the children of America’s poorest families, books are a rarity, as new research from New York University confirms [emphasis added]:
A study led by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development finds a startling scarcity of children’s books in low-income neighborhoods in Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.
The lack of children’s books was even more pronounced in areas with higher concentrations of poverty, according to the findings published online in the journal Urban Education.
“Children’s books are hard to come by in high-poverty neighborhoods. These ‘book deserts’ may seriously constrain young children’s opportunities to come to school ready to learn,” said Susan B. Neuman, professor of childhood and literacy education at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author.
Residential segregation has dramatically increased in recent years, with both high- and low-income families becoming increasingly isolated. In their study, the researchers looked at the influence of income segregation on access to children’s books, a resource vital to young children’s development.
Access to print resources—board books, stories, and informational books—early on has both immediate and long-term effects on children’s vocabulary, background knowledge, and comprehension skills. And while public libraries are critically important in giving families access to books, research has shown that the presence of books in the home is related to children’s reading achievement.
However, a 2001 study by Neuman found a sharp contrast between low- and middle-income neighborhoods when it came to being able to buy children’s books. In a middle-income community, thanks to plentiful bookstores, 13 books for each child were available. In contrast, there was only one age-appropriate book for every 300 children in a community of concentrated poverty.
To create a national picture of “book deserts,” the new study, funded by JetBlue, examined access to children’s books in six urban neighborhoods across the United States, representing the Northeast (Washington, D.C.), Midwest (Detroit), and West (Los Angeles). In each of the three cities, the researchers analyzed two neighborhoods: a high-poverty area (with a poverty rate of 40 percent and above) and a borderline community (with a roughly 18 to 40 percent poverty rate).
Going street by street in each neighborhood, the researchers counted and categorized what kinds of print resources—including books, magazines, and newspapers—were available to purchase in stores. (While online book sales have grown in recent years, three out of four children’s books are still bought in brick and mortar stores.)
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