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Another Voice: Access to books helps all children achieve equity in life

By Jodi Yorio Finlayson

On Nov. 15, The Buffalo News ran an article about the report titled: “The Racial Equity Dividend: Buffalo’s Great Opportunity,” which examined racial disparities in the region.

A key area to consider is a poverty of reading material.

Studies have shown that a large part of the reason why children living in socioeconomic disadvantage also become perennially educationally disadvantaged is a lack of books in the home before they reach kindergarten.

As the article by Sandra Tan stated, many of the non-white children in Erie and Niagara counties also live in economic distress.

Many people may underestimate the importance of early reading experiences.

Reading to young children increases their ability to do well in school long before they take their first steps, say their first words or learn how to read on their own.

Reading to children from infancy to adolescence at least 15 minutes a day is a concrete action families can take.
This is a place where caregivers can make a measurable difference in their child’s life – if they only have the resources to do so. Unfortunately, many families cannot access a public library or bookstore. Once children get to school, they may not have enough resources or certified librarians to assist all the children.

Organizations such as FirstBook.org, ReadAloud.org, ReadingIsFundamental.org and BooksForKids.org are all places that can provide a good start to increasing the books children have access to at home, even before formal schooling, in order to improve their chances of success. Community partnerships with businesses and faith-based organizations can get books to those in need.

What organizations can work with the Racial Equity Roundtable to help make sure that our neediest families have an equity of books from their earliest days?
Imagine if every organization that comes in contact with a family asks them if they have 100 or more books to read with their child. What if they could get books for their families from their church, mosque or synagogue, or their place of work or their social service organization?

What if obstetricians or hospitals provided a care package to new parents with an assortment of diverse children’s books and instructions for best practices for reading to your baby and young children? We know we should read to our children, but for some people this is difficult. Can we make it easier for people to read to their children each day? Can we make the benefits more obvious?

When families have to choose books over food and shelter, clearly books cannot win. But books, like vitamins for the mind, help all children achieve equity in the classroom and in life and should not be neglected in any conversation about improving lives.

Read early, read often. Reading to, and with, children can make a difference that literally (pardon the pun) lasts a lifetime.

Jodi Yorio Finlayson, of Lancaster, is a high school librarian.

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