Imagine sharing a book with 829 other…children

Imagine sharing a book with 829 other…children

When I was a child, I was fortunate in that I had books which were my own.

In fact, although it was true for some things like encyclopedias, I don’t remember sharing books with my three siblings, unless we specifically “loaned” one of our books to someone else.

I feel like I always had books that were mine in my room. I still have some of those self same copies in our library.

I’m guessing some of my readers had that same situation.

Having books was empowering.

Now, picture living in a poor neighborhood.

Your  parents want you to be able to read books. Through a lucky break, you have $5 to spend. Let’s say you won a writing contest at school.

Your parents would take you to your neighborhood bookstore…but there isn’t one.

Your local food market, not really a grocery store, doesn’t carry books.

There is exactly one place you can get books…the dollar store.

They are mostly cheap reprints of public domain books that will likely fall apart in a year (or “remaindered books” that didn’t sell).

You remember seeing a copy of Treasure Island there last time your family bought a box of cereal.

When you get there, though, it’s gone.

There isn’t a single children’s book available.

A recent study by New York University, reported in this

New York University article

found that in Anacostia,, a poorer area of Washington D.C. there was one children’s book available to purchase per 830 children.

The study also found that even “borderline” poverty communities had many more books than those with high poverty rates…and middle class neighborhoods had many, many more books.

As a former brick-and-mortar bookstore owner, I can tell you that books are expensive to sell…especially cheap versions. You are paying rent for the space under that book, and it isn’t a small amount of space.

Books can also be service intensive (which also costs money). When you are buying a  jar of pickles, you have a pretty good idea what you are getting. You don’t need a clerk’s help.

Books are different. It can easily take ten minutes to sell one book.

Now, there are three things that might be alternatives to having books for sale in your neighborhood.

One is your public library. That can work…but there aren’t a lot of public libraries in poor neighborhoods, and they have limited number of books…you might be on a waiting list. You may also need an address in order to check out books, and not everybody has one. You might be able to get books from your public school library, but again, it might not have many copies. As part of an educational project, I spent some of my childhood school days in a public school in Ocean Hill-Brownsville in New York, which is a poor neighborhood. There weren’t a lot of books available for kids there.

Another is buying over the internet…but you probably need a credit card (or debit card) for that, you need that address…and you need a safe place to receive mail.

The third one? E-books.

Yes, you need something on which to read them…a phone, and EBR (E-Book Reader), a tablet, a computer.

Access to those may be more available than you think.

You might be reading public domain e-books on a computer in a public library, but it’s somewhat of an option.

Non-public domain e-books can usually only be checked out by a limited number of patrons at a time.

E-books are of the better options…but I have to say, the study was discouraging.

I gave away a Kindle through this blog a while back (with readers helping select a child to get it), and I’ve donated one, and both of those felt great! However, that doesn’t make much of a difference.

Hm…maybe I’ll do a giveaway of a subscription to

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

That would let a child read books like Harry Potter…and I could certainly do a month of that pretty easily (although they would need an e-mail address). I’ll think about that one.

Shopping using AmazonSmile and designated a children’s literacy promoting organization as the beneficiary of the half a percent of the money you spend donation from Amazon.

Still, we have to be grateful for the opportunities we’ve had. The divide of book availability based on income levels appears to be widening, at least in terms of physical books. I do think e-books can help…but I can’t help being sad about it and wanting to do what I can to help.

What do you think? Did you have your own books as a child? Do you have a favorite charity that gives books to underprivileged children? Do you think my giving KU subscriptions makes sense? Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

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All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Do you have what it takes to be a Timeblazer?

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

10 Responses to “Imagine sharing a book with 829 other…children”

  1. skubitwo Says:

    I think for poverty situations, pbooks are the more usable option. many of the very poor simply don’t have internet, don’t have credit cards to shop on the internet, can’t get credit cards. i saw this even with maybe not so desperately poor college students, but poor enough that they couldn’t manage both rent and internet. our small college isn’t open 24/7, so as to save on their own bills (state budget cuts), so those students couldn’t just hang out on campus. many very poor don’t have smartphones – they can’t afford plans, except the most basic pre-pay tracfone plans for the most basic dumb phones.
    any more, internet access has become like dental and vision care, a class dividing line. if you can’t afford food, you can’t afford internet. our public library has suffered many budget cuts, too, so you can’t just hang out at the library on a public computer – they have reduced hours. if you are rural, or even urban poor in the “wrong” neighborhoods, you may not be able to get in because you can’t afford transport.
    internet access is not considered a basic need, so it is absolutely not covered by welfare programs. it’s considered a luxury item. if someone buys access for you, that’s considered income, so they reduce your assistance. happened to a student on disability.
    so, as much as i love my own e-reader, i can see where for a lot of my students and their families, they might have that e-reader and one book pre-loaded on it, and it would be like they have just one book. they wouldn’t be able to add more books to it ‘cuz they can’t get to internet. amazon is a dream world for them.

    • Allie Says:

      they wouldn’t be able to add more books to it ‘cuz they can’t get to internet. amazon is a dream world for them.
      There are a ton of problems, some of which you touch on here, but this particular issue would be fairly easy to fix – make sure you’ve got something pre-loaded with a lot of public domain books. Along with a HUGE amount of “classic” literature, there are books written for children – The Secret Garden comes to mind. And the Anne of Green Gables books. (Sorry, I’m giving girly choices, it’s what I think of first.) Point is, it doesn’t have to be all Charles Dickens.

      I can’t quite imagine a scenario in which kids “might have that e-reader and one book pre-loaded”. Memory may have been a problem in the past, but at this point you could load a device with more books than a general audience could read in a lifetime.
      (I have 500+ books ON a kindle as we speak. Why? That’s a story for another time!)

      I would worry more about devices being stolen or sold. Or both.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Allie!

        Exactly! Oz, Edgar Rice Burroughs, the Andrew Lang Fairy books…so many options!

        Devices could be stolen, certainly…for people in insecure home environments, there may be nothing they can keep with them for reading.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, skubitwo!

      The thing about e-books is that they are considerably less expensive to distribute than p-books. The first thing in the formula is to eliminate the need for it to be Amazon or needing credit cards. You can go to Project Gutenberg (if you can get on the internet…more on that in a minute) and download over 50,000 books for free. The Library of Congress as some free books, and there are other sources (I typically use ManyBooks.net as my reference on The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip).

      Even though public libraries have in many cases cut back (which I think is a real tragedy), you can generally get internet access. Many cities are also now doing public Wi-Fi for free…slow, in some cases, but available. If you have a reader, you can download a book typically in seconds. Schools are also sometimes an option. Your point about some rural communities being less likely to have internet access is a good one.

      However, of course, many people don’t have readers, or laptops, or phones. They might have to depend on reading in the public library, or (and some libraries do this), checking out an EBR.

      Perfect access? Not at all. I think it’s definitely in the mix, though, and I think it may be better than p-books in many cases.

      I do have to say, I can’t really see a situation where someone would tend to have a single e-book on an EBR without a way to get another one…

      I think we both want kids to have books, and I think both e-books and p-books are part of it. Based on the study, buying them from a store in poor neighborhoods is challenging…

  2. Allie D. Says:

    “I gave away a Kindle through this blog a while back …. However, that doesn’t make much of a difference.”
    Bufo! Don’t let that stop you – don’t let this stop anyone who is reading this!
    IMO you’ve got a bit of a faulty way of thinking about the giveaways that you describe in this post. – I’m NOT, NOT criticizing you! I just want to provide an alternate way of thinking. I (strongly) hesitate to say “every little bit helps” (such a cliche!) but it’s true. That is money and resources going in to support one child and if you are able to do that, you should do it, and no one should denigrate him/herself in that way. You’re clearly a generous person and I hope you are able to get past that feeling that you could and/or should be doing more.
    I have that feeling sometimes, too. But I recently had a convo with someone involved in raising money for a shelter… and I was informed that the donations that make the most difference were those would donate small amounts but on a somewhat regular basis, say, once a year. (n.b. my “reference” is a board member who is the chair of finance so I certainly take this explanation seriously : )

    This is an exact quote: “We depend on people who donate small amounts on a regular basis.” This surprised me, and it has certainly changed my way of thinking about charity of all sorts.
    Not every non-profit is the same but again it gave me a difference perspective.

    Now, a donor giving a big chunk, or someone leaving part of an estate – hey that’s great! And it is important. ANY donation is great, though – so don’t downplay what you have done. Don’t let people stop you from doing whatever you can do, no matter how insignificant you think it might be at the time. … I don’t think you personally would let that stop you, but for other readers – and also perhaps to change your thinking in a positive manner.
    That’s IMHO of course.
    I’m a very non-profity-person. You might have guessed that by now!

    I had a separate post about growing up as a reader and access to books and all…but the internet ate it😦 Well, I’ll post this and maybe I’ll be inspired by the second topic another time.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Allie!

      Not too worry as far as me and donating goes…I do that quite a bit and enjoy it. I didn’t mean to suggest that it wasn’t worth it or that it wasn’t rewarding: I appreciate you making that point for other people.

      Those small donations are like what makes a book a New York Times bestseller…purchases by people who aren’t “serious readers”.

      The point I was trying to make is that helping one child, while very important, doesn’t make a statistical dent in the number of children with limited access to books. I couldn’t afford to give away a Kindle a month, but I can probably do a month of KU every month (I have to think about how to approach this). That would let me directly impact twelve children rather than one in a year.

      My vision was that the Kindle would go to a child without means, but I don’t know that is the case. KU likely wouldn’t benefit the poorest children, who would have more trouble taking advantage of it, but could be very horizon-expanding for the someone who can’t afford luxuries, but has the basics.

      I think you’ll rarely find a more positive thinker than me, but I appreciate your concern in that area.🙂

      One of my favorite things to say to people is, “Just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you should do nothing.” When I propose something positive (as a simple example, I consider being a vegetarian who doesn’t use leather a positive thing), I’ll often get a response with several barriers to success, with the suggestion that it’s not worth the attempt. For example, I can’t help breathing in microbes, and my immune system is (hopefully) constantly killing “invaders”. Since that’s the case, does that mean I should eat chicken or cow (or dog or cat)? I don’t think so…”Just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you should do nothing.”

      The same goes for donations and volunteering.🙂

      I’d love to see those thoughts on childhood book access!

  3. Lady Galaxy Says:

    As a former Title I teacher in a school where over 80% of the children qualified for free or reduced price lunches, I saw extreme poverty. I agree that paper books are the better choice. One important thing to consider is the resale value of a Kindle vs that of a book. In an impoverished family, an e-reader could be viewed as something to be sold or pawned to get money for other essentials, or even worse, to buy drugs, smokes or alcohol. Children’s books do not have much of a resale value. A Kindle would also be more likely to be stolen from the child than a paper book.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      I appreciate what you did for those kids!

      I’ll say this: I think if we are talking about something which is owned and taken into a home environment, then yes, a p-book is probably better. For kids who might have access (at school or at a public library), but not ownership, I think e-books are better. Public libraries in poor neighborhoods may not have 50,000 books available to read in…but they’ll access to that on a computer in a library, or on an EBR for use in a library, which some libraries have.

      I do think you are underestimating the resale value, but again, that is a bit different in poorer neighborhoods. When I was managing a brick-and-mortar bookstore, my understanding was that bookstores were the most shoplifted type of store…because it was so easy to turn stolen books into cash. Shoplifting was certainly a problem every week, and we were unaware of some of it. The goal for the store was 8% shrinkage (shoplifting, loss due to damage, and employee theft)…quite high.

      A new hardback used to be worth about 25% of the cover price (the used bookstore would sell it for 50% of the cover price). My guess is that the value of used p-books is rising. However, without access to a used bookstore, it would be a lot tougher to sell stolen p-books.

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        Since I have a very small house, back in the days when I still bought p-books, from time to time, I would have to cull out books to make room for new ones. I would generally take them to Half Price Books. I would generally get about $1 each for hard cover books and about 50 cents for paperbacks. I was only offered 10 cents each for a set of Time Life books. I never took any children’s books to attempt to sell.

        When I was teaching, I would make the rounds of local book stores prior to “Right to Read” week hoping for donations of books to give away as prizes for various contests and activities. The best I managed to get was big discounts. If any folks are interested in getting books into the hands of needy kids, check with Title I schools. They can always use books for classroom lending libraries or to give out as prizes. I don’t know if all states have a “Right to Read Week,” but I’m sure there are similar programs everywhere. There’s also “Read Across America” week.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Lady!

        I sold something to Half Price Books once…and the prices were anomalously low. I have bought from them since, but I wouldn’t sell things to them again. Obviously, I could have rejected the offer, but we needed money and once we got them there, it would have been tough to pack it up again. They were vinyl records, by the way…I’ve never (so far) sold books for cash.

        Yes, donating books directly to schools can be a great thing! When they are donated to public libraries, they are generally sold to raise money…at least that’s been what I’ve seen.

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