In low-income neighborhoods, the ratio of books to children is one book for every 300 children, far below the ratio of 13 books per child in middle- and upper-income neighborhoods.

Handbook of Early Literacy Research 2006

A child from a low-income family enters first grade with an average of only 25 hours of one-to-one picture book reading, compared with 1,000 to 1,700 hours for a child from a typical middle-class home.

Beginning to Read

Children from low-income homes heard 30 million fewer words by the time they were 3 years old, resulting in vocabularies less than 50% the size of their upper-income peers.  In contrast, the greater number of words children heard before age 3, the greater their IQs and success in school. 

The average 5 year old from a middle-income home recognizes 22 letters of the alphabet while an average 5 year old from a low-income home recognizes only 9.

A child from a low-income family enters kindergarten with a listening vocabulary of 3000 words, compared to 20,000 for their middle income peers.

Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley. Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children.  Paul H. Brookes Publishing, 1995.

"Low-income children lag 12-14 months behind the norms of their middle class peers in both language development and pre-reading skills (Barnett, Carolan, Fitzgerald, & Squires 2013)."

Shannon, Patrick.  Reading Poverty in America.  New York: Routledge, 2014.  

“The study Children’s Access to Print Materials and Education-Related Outcomes (2010) was commissioned by Reading Is Fundamental, the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the United States, and the findings show that providing children access to print materials accomplishes the following:

  • Improves reading performance. Among the studies reviewed, kindergarten students showed the biggest increase.
  • Is instrumental in helping children learn the basics of reading, such as letter and word identification, phonemic awareness, and completion of sentences.
  • Prompts them to read more frequently and for greater amounts of time.
  •  Improves their attitudes toward reading and learning.” (59)

“And lest you think that only the privileged with the means to purchase books reap the benefit of books—not so. Even a child who hails from a home with 25 books will, on average, complete two more years of school than would a child from a home without any books at all.” (58)

Studies have shown that being read to as a child and having books in the home are the two most important indicators of future academic success.

Anne Henderson and Karen Mapp, "A Wave of New Evidence: The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement" (Austin: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 2002). National Center for Family Literacy, "All About Families: Benefits of Reading to Children" (Issue No. 2, January 27, 2003).

Children who are exposed to books early in life have better language skills than those who wait until later.

Adam Payne, Grover Whitehurst, and Andrea Angell. “The Role of Home Literacy Environment in the Development of Language Ability in Preschool Children for Low-Income Families”. Early Childhood Research Quarterly v. 9 issues 3-4 (1994) p.422-440.

A baby's brain grows to about 80% adult size by age three and 90% by age five as neurons grow and develop new sensors for information.  Along with this growth, childhood is a highly active period of neural circuit-selection in patterns of learning and processing are established creating "critical periods" for development.  "The critical period for language development begins to close around age 5 and ends around puberty."

Zero to Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families.  Web 23 May 2015.

Children who live in print-rich environments and who are read to during the first years of life are much more likely to learn to read on schedule.

Growing up in a home with 500 books would propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average, than would growing up in a similar home with few or no books... A child from a family rich in books is 19 percentage points more likely to complete university than a comparable child growing up without a home library.

Evans, M.D.R., J. Kelley, J. Sikora, and D. J. Treiman. 2010. "Family Scholarly Culture and Educational Success: Evidence From 27 Nations." Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 28(2):171-197.

Children who fall seriously behind in the growth of critical early reading skills have fewer opportunities to practice reading. Evidence suggests that these lost practice opportunities make it extremely difficult for children who remain poor readers during the first three years of elementary school to ever acquire average levels of reading fluency.

Torgeson, J. Avoiding the Devastating Downward Spiral, American Educator. (2004)

A child who is a poor reader at the end of first grade has an 88% chance of being a poor reader at the end of fourth grade.  

Juel, Connie.  1988.  "Learning to Read and Write: A Longitudinal Study of 54 Children from First through Fourth Grades."  Journal of Educational Psychology.  80(4): 437-447.

Shared-reading practices—a parent reading a picture book with a toddler or a teacher reading a book to a class of preschoolers—are reading practices that are widely recommended to promote language and other skills related to early literacy development. Shared-reading activities are often recommended as the single most important thing adults can do to promote the emergent literacy skills of young children. (p. 153)

Lonigan, Christopher J., Timothy Shanahan, Anne Cunningham, and The National Early Literacy Panel. "Chapter 4 Impact of Shared Reading Intervention on Young Children's Early Literacy Skills." Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. National Early Literacy Panel, 2008. 153-64. Web. 29 July 2011.

The single most important activity for building understandings and skills essential for reading success appears to be reading aloud to children (Wells 1985; Bus, Van Ijzendoorn, & Pellegrini 1995). High-quality book reading occurs when children feel emotionally secure (Bus & Van Ijzendoorn 1995; Bus et al. 1997) and are active participants in reading (Whitehurst et al. 1994). Asking predictive and analytic questions in small group settings appears to affect children’s vocabulary and comprehension of stories (Karweit & Wasik 1996). Children may talk about the pictures, retell the story, discuss their favorite actions, and request multiple rereadings. It is the talk that surrounds the storybook reading that gives it power, helping children to bridge what is in the story and their own lives (Dickinson & Smith 1994; Snow et al. 1995). Snow (1991) has described these types of conversations as “decontextualized language” in which teachers may induce higher-level thinking by moving experiences in stories from what the children may see in front of
them to what they can imagine.

Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children: A joint position statement of the International Reading Association and the National Association for the Education of Young Children

Studies show that providing students a multicultural educational experience has an equalizing effect on both general and special education classrooms by creating an environment in which students can succeed despite cultural and linguistic differences.

Obiakor, E, F. (2007, January 01). Multicultural Special Education: Effective Intervention for Today's Schools. Intervention in School & Clinic, (3), 148, Retrieved from

Parents whose children (< 3 years) had received books and educational materials during well-child visits were more likely than parents in a control group to report that they shared books with their children, and to cite sharing books as a favorite activity or a child’s favorite activity.

High P., Hopmann M., LaGasse L., Linn H. “Evaluation of a clinic-based program to promote book sharing and bedtime routines among low-income urban families with young children.” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 1998; 15, p. 459–465.

Hispanic parents participating in Reach Out and Read were more likely to report reading to their children compared to Hispanic parents not participating in Reach Out and Read. When parents read more frequently to their children, they were also more likely to read frequently themselves.

Sanders L., Gershon T.D., Huffman L.C., Mendoza F.S. “Prescribing books for immigrant children.” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 2000; 154, p. 771–777.

Hispanic parents whose children had received bilingual books, educational materials, and anticipatory guidance about literacy were more likely to report reading books with their child at least 3 days/week (66% vs. 24%) and report that reading books was one of their three favorite things to do with their child (43% vs. 13%) than parents in a control group. Parents participating in the Reach Out and Read intervention also tended to have more books in the home (for children and adults).

Golova N., Alario A.J., Vivier P.M., Rodriguez M., High P.C. “Literacy promotion for Hispanic families in a primary care setting: A randomized controlled trial.” Pediatrics 1998; 103, p. 993–997.

In a 1992 study, researchers found that African-American children responded more positively to books with African-American themes than they did to books without these themes.  Children were able to recall story lines, asserts whether the characters were authentic, and imagine themselves a one of the book's characters. 

Grice, Mary Oldham, Vaughn Courtney, "Third Graders Respond to Literacture for and about Afro Americans," Urban Review, 1992, 24,2, June 149-164. 

In a survey that included 2,000 schools, educators asserted that children "would be more enthusiastic readers if they had access to books with characters, stories and images that reflect their lives and their neighborhoods."

First Book, "The Stories for All Project," Web, 8 December 2014.

Despite the fact that 37% of the U.S. population is comprised of people of color, only 10% of children's books published in the past two decades contain multicultural content.

Lee and Low Books.  17 March 2014.  Based on research by the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:

"Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books."

Rudine Sims Bishop, The Ohio State University.  "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Door" originally appeared in Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom.  Vo. 6, no. 3.  Summer 1990.  Retrieved from  16 December 2014.