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Ending Book Hunger: Access to Print Across Barriers of Class and Culture

Ending Book Hunger coverWhen it comes to access to books, the United States and countries around the world face a crisis. Two out of every five children in America cannot afford to buy a single book. And millions of families in other nations may not be able to find even one children’s book in their native language.

In Ending Book Hunger: Access to Print Across Barriers of Class and Culture (Yale University Press), law professor Lea Shaver examines the linguistic and cultural gaps left by the traditional publishing industry and suggests ways to help. As Shaver states, “we must begin to think about books in the same way we think of education and health care. Market, charitable, and government efforts are all needed, or too many people will be left out.”

The obstacles to getting quality books into the hands of every child are daunting. The central difficulty has always been cost: less affluent people have less money to spend on books, and so the profit margin for books that reflect or cater to their communities may be too low for most publishers to stay in business. These economics have also driven a lack of diversity among children’s book authors, illustrators, and subjects. For children around the world who don’t speak one of the most widely used languages, like English or Spanish, or a national language considered affluent, like Finnish or Dutch, there are likely no options at all.

Finally, the books themselves, even if they are available, must be distributed to communities in need. Many people speaking underserved languages, like Ladakhi in India or Nyanja in Zambia, live in far-removed locations lacking reliable postal services. Compounding this problem is the fact that to grow and develop, children need a variety of books—not just one or two—reflective of their own and others’ experiences.

Shaver profiles individuals and organizations taking steps to surmount these challenges, such as crowdsourcing book translations, providing e-books and e-readers, or working within the publishing industry. She highlights AFT-partner First Book (featured below) and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library; they use different but effective strategies to get books to children in the United States. If partnerships between individuals, nonprofits, the government, and publishers can succeed, Shaver writes, the effects on 1 billion schoolchildren and their communities will be life changing.

Fostering a Love of Reading with First Book

To ensure that high-quality, low-cost books get into the hands of children—and the educators and others who support them—the AFT has partnered with First Book since 2011. First Book works with publishers to bring books and other educational resources at very low cost, and in some cases free, to children and families in need via teachers and other staff who educate and engage them. To learn more, visit www.firstbook.org.

Here, we highlight some staggering statistics that show the fruits of the AFT’s friendship with First Book.

statistics of the AFT's partnership with First Book

American Educator, Summer 2020
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