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The importance of many books

Why does Read for Your Life donate libraries of between 400 and 1000 books to at-risk children and adolescents – and not just smaller book collections?

Our choices are based on research showing how important it is to grow up with everyday access to a lot of books. Actually, the amount of available books is of such great importance, as data from more than 70,000 case studies in 27 countries, show that children who grow up in homes with many books, on average get three more years of education, than children from homes without books – regardless of the education, employment and social class of their parents. We have also been inspired by statistics from school libraries that show students doing significantly better, if the library has at least 400 books.

But it’s not just about quantity. If all the books are about fantasy or animals, the chances of a child finding a book that interests her or him are slim. The joy of reading isn’t ignited, and their outlook on the world is less expanded. In the institutions we donate to, it’s extremely important that the library contains a broad variety of books, both in content and difficulty levels. A lot of at-risk children and adolescents are challenged in their reading abilities because of for example periods without schooling, or difficulty keeping up in school when life at home is full of chaos and neglect.

We have also talked to almost 2,000 at-risk children and adolescents about what they would like to read, and their different wishes became really apparent in those conversations. Some of them want to escape into strange universes, while others like to read about something they can relate to. We have had requests for books about cutting, anorexia and death. A thirteen-year-old girl wanted books “about somebody who has suffered a loss, and about someone who suddenly disappeared”. A boy of only nine asked: “Is there a book where your mom and dad hit each other, and then make up?”

Non-fiction books are also popular, and the requests in this category continue to surprise us. While one boy wanted books about becoming a salesman and starting your own business, another asked for books about plants, because he dreamed of having a garden centre when he grows up. Other requests were for books about coding, aquarium fish, actors, psychology, ground beef, the history of fashion, hunting, snails – and much more.

Children and adolescents are the true experts of their own joy of reading. An adult can never guess what’s trending right now, or what is longed for. Finding the right book usually takes a wide selection you can glance through, skim, and feel in your hands. This is why we listen to the children and youngsters, and donate libraries that are thoroughly evaluated with room for very specific book requests, a broad selection of subjects, and with several difficulty levels. Here, the children can embark on an adventure, feel recognized and listened to – and be surprised.

Evans, Maria: ”Books and schooling in 27 nations”, University of Nevada-Reno, 2010
Krashen, Stephen D.: ”The Power of Reading – Insights from the Research”, Libraries Unlimited, 2004

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