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The Gift of Early Literacy: Why Getting Kids Reading is Important




I’ve always been a reader. For as long as I can remember, I had a book with me: in the waiting room, in my backpack, at restaurants. On nighttime car rides, I would try to snatch paragraphs as streetlights passed overhead. Now, as I’m running errands, I often keep a book in my purse (currently Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl) in case unexpected time opens while I’m out and about. I’m inclined to pack way more books than I can read on vacations and weekend trips. There’s something special about being swept up in a story or learning something fascinating, while time flies along with pages.


Like Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, reading came as naturally to me as breathing, and I was privileged to have access to books from my childhood onward. I admit I took my extremely bookish childhood for granted.


That was before I started working with literacy organizations, libraries, and after-school programs through Ghost Writer. The more I worked with these organizations, the more apparent the importance of early literacy and getting kids reading became, and how many children lack easy access to the books I love so much.


What Keeps Kids from Reading?

Kids are reading less often these days. This may be partially due to the rise in screen time among children. But beyond the frequent beckoning of screens, access to age-appropriate books can play a large role in this.


When I was little, my parents fed my fervent love for books, reading nursery rhymes to me and taking me to libraries and bookstores. There were plenty of books in the house. My hometown had a great public library system, and I got my first library card before I turned 10. I borrowed books from the library extensively throughout my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.


However, not every child has books readily available. According to the National Literacy Trust’s 2022 Annual Literacy Survey, one out of five children between ages 5 and 8 does not have a book to call their own. A 2016 study of three U.S. cities by Susan Neuman and Naomi Moland found that low-income communities were less likely to have access to print resources, with few places to buy age-appropriate children’s books.


This doesn’t just apply to buying books, but also borrowing them. Neuman and Moland also observed that public libraries in lower-income communities can be inaccessible for numerous reasons: a lack of public transportation, restrictive hours, and late fines. School libraries in these communities can also fall short, with limited investments.


This lack of access to books hinders students from practicing reading, aggravating learning loss. Learning loss often happens when school is out for the summer, leading to what is commonly referred to as “the summer slide.” A commonly cited statistic indicates that, over the summer, children—especially those from low-income households—can lose up to three months of reading skills.


This is especially concerning in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Harvard and Stanford’s Education Recovery Scorecard found that the average elementary or middle school student “lost one third of a grade level in reading.” But the implications of this loss in reading ability extend beyond playing catch-up in the classroom.


The Implications of a Completely Non-Bookish Childhood

A lack of skill in reading can affect a child’s life well into adolescence and adulthood. A 2011 study backed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that students who haven’t mastered the basics of reading by the third grade are six times more likely to drop out of high school, and that those who aren’t reading proficiently by that time are four times more likely. Related to this, the unemployment rate tends to be higher for those who have not graduated from high school, and those who are employed tend to earn lower wages.


On a global scale, the World Literacy Foundation points out in their September 2022 report that illiteracy is tied to poorer health, higher crime rates, and less ability to participate in civic processes. But proficient skills in reading change all of that.


The Benefits of Books

We are surrounded by scads of reading material—road signs, billboards, emails, junk mail, product packaging, the list goes on. But we don’t connect with informational reading like billboards and road signs the same way we connect with a good story. Stories draw us in, joining our emotions to the characters, helping us relate to characters who may be different from us.

This is especially crucial during the elementary school years. One integrative literature review by Roza and Guimarães indicates that reading—especially fiction texts—plays a key role in creating one’s “vocabulary of emotions” and in helping students relate to characters in multiple ways to build empathy.

Books also bring people together off the page, especially caregivers and children. Just as my parents did for me, caregivers can cultivate an early love of books by reading stories to their children, creating a space to bond. They also serve as reading role models. When a child sees their caregiver reading in their spare time, they are more likely to pick up a book, too. The National Literacy Trust found that nearly 53% of children with role models would think it was “okay to read” if they saw their role model reading.

Books can give insight into new cultures, new ideas, and new ways of being while connecting with our common humanity. Reading books by authors with different experiences from ours broaden our understanding of the world around us. Some of the books that have done this for me include Najla Said’s Looking for Palestine, which describes navigating life as a Palestinian-Lebanese American in New York City, and Austin Channing Brown’s I’m Still Here, which describes Brown’s experience growing up as a black woman in the American evangelical church. Additionally, the Education Trust indicates that books that accurately depict complex characters of diverse backgrounds can also sharpen “analytical skills” and present a fleshed-out view of the world around us.


Beyond seeing new perspectives, stories help children to see themselves. Children need to see themselves reflected in stories. They need to know that their own stories are worthy of being heard and comprise a meaningful part of the world they inhabit, no matter their race, ability, faith, or ethnic background. This also enhances academic outcomes. One 2016 study by Dee and Penner indicates that when students are presented with material that mirrors their cultural background in school, they become more engaged in their learning, which fuels their academic success.


The evidence is clear: An investment in a child’s reading is an investment in their future, their community, and their world. And we at Ghost Writer are honored to help kids to get reading and get inspired.


One of the ways we do this is by sponsoring Novel Reels, free community film showings that help get books into the hands of children. Each Novel Reels event has a movie screening and provides a free snack, drink, and book, along with a bookmark that can be redeemed for another free book at their local library. We love sharing books and stories with our community! Here’s the upcoming schedule for Novel Reels 2024. We hope you can join us!


June 21 – Showing Migration at the Ragged Edge Swim Club in Chambersburg at 8pm

August 9 – Showing Barbie at the Chambersburg Aquatic Center, time TBD

November 1 – Showing Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire at the Memorial Park Bandshell in Chambersburg, time TBD


How We Can Help

Ghost Writer LLC is a professional fundraising counsel that helps nonprofits further their mission through grant writing, donor database management, sponsorship packages, and more. If you’re with an organization that’s on a mission to help children strengthen their literacy, email us at doingwhatmatters@ghostwriterquill.com to learn more about how we can help you share the joy of reading.

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