An article in The Bookseller this week highlighted a program that distributes books to people who receive assistance at the food banks of two UK towns, demonstrating the power of books to restore a sense of wonder and community involvement. The program, a part of Booktrust known as National Book Start Week, put books into the hands of more than two thousand children who had arrived at the locations for food.
This program is just one more in a growing understanding that books have the power to lift the human spirit and spark a renewed interest in one’s own self-worth. Other book charities, from globally staged events like World Book Night to one teen’s initiative to raise the funds for books and distribute them in her local park, have reached out to far-reaching communities for the good that comes from books.
Cory Doctorow and his publisher recently made a donation of more than 200 copies of one of his titles, Little Brother, after a Florida school principal pulled the plug on a summer reading program that focused on that book. When a school in Idaho caved to parent pressure and removed Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian from the curriculum, two concerned citizens launched a crowdfunding campaign to purchase 350 free copies of the book, which were distributed with the help of Reclaimed Books and high schooler Brady Kissel; the publisher, Hachette, gave an additional 350 copies of the book to the cause. (In an interesting twist, parents in the town called the police because the group was giving copies of a banned book to minors in public. The police arrived on the scene and were more than a little surprised by the need for police backup when they saw a smiling teenaged girl handing copies of legally purchased books to happily receptive citizens.)
Recently, pediatricians in Colorado began distributing books to their young patients as part of a full check-up, along with giving parents information on the importance of early literacy and family reading time every day. The books for the program Reach Out and Read Colorado come from a variety of sources, including public donations of new and gently used books.
The push for greater access to books isn’t new, as libraries have long had initiatives in place to ensure that books are available in communities across the country. But programs such as these that give the books away are meant to not only increase literacy and basic enjoyment of reading, but also to turn individuals–especially those who may be in need–into book owners.
By focusing on the ownership of a book, it’s not just about fostering reading, but about fostering the understanding that books have a certain amount of power in our lives. There’s a measure of dignity attached to owning, enjoying, and sharing books, and these programs, many of which are supported by donations from the both public and private sectors, help ensure that books hold a special meaning for as many people as possible.