No Access:Barriers to Reading Pt. 2

When my sons were small, I would often find them playing in the middle of a pile of books. Sometimes the books were used as ramps for their Matchbox cars or walls to a house for their action figures.  But many times, I would find the boys lying in the middle of the pile, looking at the pictures, making up their own stories and eventually reading.

Not everyone is so lucky to grow up surrounded by books.  In some homes, books aren’t around because reading isn’t something that was modeled for the parents, so it’s not a value they bring to their own parenting. That’s a skill can be learned. But when gas and food eat up a tiny budget, books can seem like luxury items and that is another problem all together.

My last post introduced a short series on Barriers to Reading by discussing the difficulties some readers have along with some suggestions to help them over their internal hurdles. Today’s post is about an external barrier–no access.

I work between several school and home locations in a lower income area and am continuously surprised at how seldom I see buses go by. Library options are not convenient. There are no big box stores or bookstores around. If I lived there and wanted to buy a book for my child, I’d be hard pressed to find one even if I had the money to spare. When I do home visits, sometimes there’s not a book to be seen. Studies show that the presence of books in the home has a direct relationship with school success. Not having books is a huge obstacle.

The problem is far worse in many other countries. Even the poorest communities in the United States are rich compared to the poverty overseas. Where does reading fall into the pyramid of life choices when you are struggling to survive? But books open a door to literacy that provides increased job opportunities, ability to participate in elections and ability to understand health and education services wherever one lives. 

Almost Effortless Ways You Can Make a Difference

  1. Donate new books to your local school. We do this with my children’s school or classroom libraries at typical gift-giving times.  We also buy extra books at the Scholastic Book Fair to donate to their classrooms or library. For some kids, school is their only link to books.
  2. In the same vein, donate your gently used children’s books to your local school for them to use or give away to children who need them.
  3. Give a brand new hardback book to a school counselor to give to a child who could use an extra special boost. Write a short, encouraging note inside about your favorite book-related memory, a related quote or what you hope the gift will represent to make the gift more personal.   
  4. Take the above suggestions a step further and find a school in a low income neighborhood. Do steps 1-3.

 **When interacting with schools, you should call first to make the appropriate arrangements.  Nice, up-to-date books or classics are generally welcome. Don’t give away books that have out-lived their usefulness. Remember to also look for books with multcultural characters. If you aren’t sure what’s appropriate, contact the school’s librarian.


For bigger scale ideas, check out these links.

First Book:  Supports children in need by providing access to new books.

Book Bus: A Books by the Busload event held in Omaha last February took books to the people who need them.

Book Drive Toolkit: Tips from United We Serve for starting a book distribution team.

Books by Elephant: One man’s mission to bring books to rural Laos.

Successful reading is the first key to open doors of opportunities. But this door remains firmly closed for many people with serious ramifications.  How else can we connect books with readers who have difficulty getting them? Share your ideas and your books!

Photos compliments of

Joanne Prushing Johnson is a middle- grade writer, middle- grade mother, middle- grade occupational therapist (and middle-aged woman but we aren’t going there!). Take a lucky guess at her birth order and you’ll see she’s spent her entire life firmly planted in the middle. She lives in the middle of the U.S. in the state of Nebraska in the middle of four boys, one husband and double-sized dog. Joanne is represented by Quinlan Lee of Adams Literary.