Free Books Program Looks to Close Literacy Gap

Mayor Muriel Bowser and Councilman Charles Allen read to children at the kickoff of "Books From Birth," a new program that provides free monthly books for children under age 5. Photo by Kandace Brown, HU News Service.

WASHINGTON – Young children in Washington can now receive a free book in the mail every month through “Books From Birth,” an early literacy program through the District of Columbia Public Library that will mail books to children up to age 5 in an effort to close the literacy gap among the city’s children.

City Councilman Charles Allen, who began the program, said books that are mailed will be age-appropriate, and every child in the household under age 5 can receive a book.

The first book that every child, at every age, in the program will receive is The Little Engine That Could, Allen said, to send the message that every child has the ability to be successful.

The approximately 3,300 families that have already signed up for the program through the library’s website at www.dclibrary.org/freebooks will begin receiving their books this month, Allen said.  The goal is to get books in the hands of every child in the District and shrink the education gap for black children and Hispanic children, he said.

“It is too often that the word gap is a very accurate predictor of educational achievement for a child,” he said. “It is later called the achievement gap. The achievement gap predicts outcomes for children that affect their health, public safety, jobs and income.

“I believe that putting that power of a book in the hands of our youngest residents will absolutely make a difference.”

More than 3,000 parents have already signed their children
up for the program. Photo by Kandace Brown, HU News Service.

Ryckale Williams, a mother of two children, a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter, said she signed her children up because they love to read, and she believes that this will encourage them to continue reading.

“I think this is a great idea,” Williams said. “A child can never have too many books.”

Williams heard about the program through her daughter’s day care center, which reached out to spread the word about the program.

“This should help get the community involved,” she said. “Once a child starts getting books at home, they want to go to the library and explore words they did not know before.”

Williams said she and her children read at home before the children’s bedtime, picking a book from the in-home library they created.

Allen introduced legislation to create the program in January 2015. He got the idea, he said, when he was visiting family in Tennessee, and his niece received a book in the mail. He then began working on the initiative that will do the same in Washington.

Allen and Mayor Muriel Bowser kicked off the program Thursday at National Medical Center in Northwest Washington.

Bowser congratulated Allen for creating the program.

“He had an idea, introduced it, got it funded and implemented it,” she said.   

Early literacy develops well before children step into their school, Allen said, which is why  it is so important to not wait until the word gap turns into the achievement gap to tackle the issues.

“It is not the reality of every child to have books at home, which is why it is so important to create that help,” he said.

The District now joins 1,600 communities that have built home libraries for a quarter of a million children through an organization called the Imagination Library.

The Imagination Library is a non-profit organization that supports early childhood literacy by sending books to the homes of children. The Imagination Library was founded by singer Dolly Parton in Tennessee in an effort to promote reading for children.

According to the Imagination Library website, it has mailed over 60 million books since its inception in 1995.