Books are incredible. No matter the length or reading level, when you open one up, the opportunity to learn and grow is limitless.
Talk to any teacher, pediatrician, or developmental expert and one of the things they’ll all certainly tell you is that it is so important to read to your children. Considering the majority of a child’s neural connections are made by the time they’re three, it’s important that they are hearing as many different words as possible as they grow. A typical child in a white-collar family will hear around 45 million words before they reach the age of four. Pretty astounding, right? Reading is a huge way we can expose children to diverse language, sentence structures, and ways of thinking… unless there are few books to be found.
Have you ever heard the term “Book Desert”? It’s defined as a geographic area where printed books and other reading material are allegedly hard to obtain. They exist. Sadly, as opposed to the figure of 45 million we heard above, a child on welfare may only hear on average 13 million words before they reach the same age of four.
There are people in the world who are trying to eradicate these Book Deserts, however. Two of them are Ohio natives Karlos Marshall and Moses Mbeseha, who founded the organization the Conscious Connect.
“Book deserts are found in high-poverty areas in both urban and rural settings,” Marshall told Babble. “An inability to access books is extremely problematic because it creates a vicious cycle of educational disparities related to access, resources and outcomes. This begins with the ‘word gap’ before children enter school and is exacerbated by traditional schooling approaches that do not center diverse voices.”
The solution isn’t as easy as one may think. The problem is muti-faceted. Book Deserts largely exist in lower income areas, because books are expensive, and so is internet access that one could use to purchase them. Another problem is that book retailers are a dying breed, and are mostly found in higher-income areas. On top of that, libraries, who offer their resources for free to the public, are not always within walking distance to people who don’t have access to transportation.
The men launched their organization in 2016, and now, with the help of 250 volunteers, they are finding creative ways to get books into the hands of people who need them. They have a Words on Wheels bike, which can tote around 400 lbs of books at a time and distributes 30,000 books annually, as well as a Read While You Wait program, which puts culturally relevant reading material in the hands of children who are waiting for their appointments at barbers hops and beauty salons.
One of our favorite things that this group does, though, is install Houses of Knowledge, which are small book boxes, at places like schools, community centers, daycares, and churches. These Houses of Knowledge make books available to anyone who wants to grab or exchange one.
Stories like this remind us that we are able to change the things around us that are holding us, and our community, back. Books in the hands of children, children who otherwise may never have had the chance to read them, become power: and because of these two men, some of the next generation’s teachers, leaders, politicians, and influencers may now be burgeoning. All because of a House of Knowledge.
Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.