June 9, 2011

The Book Bus Is Coming


Jennifer Frances began distributing free books to school-age children in her native Tampa almost a decade ago. In 2010, sponsored by Florida-based Transitions Optical, and a host of other donors including Penguin Books, Simon & Schuster, and WalMart, Frances gave away 65,000 books to children in 37 states. This year, traveling in the book-stocked van dubbed “Bess the Book Bus,” she aims to deliver more than 100,000 free books to underprivileged children in underserved neighborhoods in 44 states. (Harlem and the Bronx are listed on the Book Bus’s itinerary of scheduled stops; No dates appear on the site.) In some cities, “2011 Transitions Optical Success is in Sight Tour” co-sponsors Transitions Optical and VSP Vision Care will be on hand to donate free eye exams and prescription glasses. 

Bess The Book Bus, Inc. is a charitable, tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) mobile literacy outreach.

To donate click here.

The donation page reminds that, “There is a direct correlation between the number of books in a child’s home and their literacy skills. People with higher literacy skills have greater success in life.”

I see variations of this claim popping up with regularity in my reading — in this MobyLives piece from last month, for example — but I had not been aware of the source.

In Freakonomics authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner write:

What are we to make of this? If reading books doesn’t have an impact on early childhood test scores, could it be that the books’ mere physical presence in the house makes the children smarter? Do books perform some kind of magical osmosis on a child’s brain? If so, one might be tempted to simply deliver a truckload of books to every home that contains a preschooler.

This would indeed seem to be the corollary of the findings published in the paper, “Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations,” by M.D.R. Evans, Jonathan Kelley, Joanna Sikora, and Donald J. Treiman in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, Volume 28, Issue 2, June 2010, Pages 171-197

I quote the entire abstract:

Children growing up in homes with many books get 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class. This is as great an advantage as having university educated rather than unschooled parents, and twice the advantage of having a professional rather than an unskilled father. It holds equally in rich nations and in poor; in the past and in the present; under Communism, capitalism, and Apartheid; and most strongly in China. Data are from representative national samples in 27 nations, with over 70,000 cases, analyzed using multi-level linear and probit models with multiple imputation of missing data.


Dan O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Melville House.