Our researchers conducted an environmental scan of high poverty areas as well as “borderline” neighborhoods to investigate discrepancies in access to books and other literacy materials. To do so, we went street by street and identified all literacy resources available, coded them, and used this information to determine how many books were available per child per neighborhood. In July 2016, we published our study in Urban Education using the term book deserts to describe communities with little access to literacy resources and materials. Since then, we have partnered with JetBlue on their Soar with Reading initiative on innovative book donation and distribution programs which are designed to promote literary awareness, create literacy communities and provide children with choices of diverse, culturally-relevant titles.
In high-income communities, there are about 13 books for every child; in high-poverty communities, there is one book for every 300 children (Neuman & Celano, 2001). The presence of books in the home is a strong predictor of reading achievement, as access to print resources during early childhood has an immediate and long-term effect on vocabulary, background knowledge and comprehension (Allington et al., 2010; Mol & Bus, 2011).