Amy Barnes and Sandra Ahlhorn started off holding book drives in their children’s elementary schools for several years, motivated by the realization that many Houston children do not have books in their homes. Collected books were donated to a few local elementary schools with children in need.
In November 2012, Amy and Sandra decided to start Books Between Kids with the goal of addressing the greater needs of Houston. Over 90,000 elementary school children in Houston ISD qualify for free or reduced lunch based on federal income standards. For many of these children, books in their homes are a luxury, not a reality. A recent study shows that while in middle income neighborhoods the ratio of books per child is 13 to 1, in low income neighborhoods, the ratio is 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children. – Neuman, Susan B. and David K. Dickinson, ed. Handbook of Early Literacy Research, Volume 2. New York, NY: 2006, p. 31.
This lack of books places children born into poverty at a distinct disadvantage in school. Studies show these children often have reading test scores well below average. One such study reported that only 16% of children in low-income families score in the upper range for reading test scores, while 50% of children from the most affluent families score in the upper range. – Gershoof, E., 2003.
In The Literary Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions (1998), Jeff McQuillan reports that the biggest predictor of academic success is not race, income, gender, parents’ education or location; it is the presence of books in the home. A study published in 2007 found that providing “easy access to self-selected books for summer reading over successive years does, in fact, limit summer reading setback.” The same study also found larger reading gains for students coming from the most economically disadvantaged families. – Addressing Summer Reading Setback Among Economically Disadvantaged Elementary Students, Richard L. Allington et al, 2007. Additional studies have shown that being a “book owner” increases the likelihood of children staying in school.
With all of this research, it only makes sense to address this need in our community. Children who have the privilege of their own home libraries can donate the books they have finished reading to help other children in Houston. This is a peer to peer philanthropic effort that even small children can easily understand and enjoy participating.
Now in our 9th year of operations, we have grown from a small organization that impacts a few hundred children to one that has distributed more than 1.7 million books to over 500,000 children in 44 zip codes throughout Greater Houston. We started with one program, Book Celebrations on the campuses of our partner schools, and now we operate three programs to distribute books: Book Celebrations, Community Partners, and the Book A Month program. Children often become first-time book owners because of Books Between Kids.