Friday, June 11, 2010

The Importance of a Book-Filled Home

During my elementary school years, my bedroom was abutted by two walk-in closets. One of these was filled with clothes and other closet-type things. The other was chock-full of books. Our living room downstairs had bookshelves with perhaps a thousand books, but there was enough overflow that the book closet upstairs was piled high with reading material. I spent countless hours in that room, exploring these compelling, sometimes strange and often inscrutable texts.

It seems that I was predisposed to reading from day one, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that being surrounded as I was by books had a lot to do with my future literacy and might even account for the years I've spent in graduate school.

Salon's Laura Miller writes a compelling survey of recent evidence of the effects of a book-filled home on future literacy development. The impetus for the article was the release of a study by the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility with the following abstract:

Children growing up in homes with many books get 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class. This is as great an advantage as having university educated rather than unschooled parents, and twice the advantage of having a professional rather than an unskilled father. It holds equally in rich nations and in poor; in the past and in the present; under Communism, capitalism, and Apartheid; and most strongly in China. Data are from representative national samples in 27 nations, with over 70,000 cases, analyzed using multi-level linear and probit models with multiple imputation of missing data.

If you didn't find something like that compelling, you wouldn't have read this far. And you'll be happy to know that this study is only the latest in a long line of research into the importance of the print climate in a child's home. In "The Read-Aloud Handbook," Jim Trelease devotes an entire chapter to "The Print Climate in the Home, School, and Library." He cites a handful of studies going back to 1983 that connect the number of books in a child's home to that child's motivation to read and future success in school:

Lesley Mandel Morrow, "Home and School Correlates of Early Interest in Literature," Journal of Educational Research, vol. 76, March/April 1983, pp. 221-30.

Susan B. Neuman and Donna Celano, "Access to Print in Low-Income and Middle-Income Communities: An Ecological Study of Four Neighborhoods," Reading Research Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 1, January/February/March 2001, pp. 8-26.

Susan B. Neuman, Donna Celano, Albert N. Greco, and Pamela Shue, Access for All: Closing the Book Gap for Children in Early Education (Newark, DE: International Reading Association, 2001).

Nell K. Duke, "For the Rich It's Richer: Print Experiences and Environments Offers to Children in Very Low- and Very High-Socioeconomic Status First-Grade," American Educational Research Journal, vol. 37, no. 2, Summer 2000, pp. 441-78.

That's all for today. But as I've written before, the more I learn about how reading works, the luckier I feel.


  1. TY for writing this. Books are so very important. Libraries too!!
    Not only did I have shelves of books for me and my children, we made going to the Library a weekly trip!
    It was just as important as going grocery shopping, having 'food' for the brain on hand.
    We are so blessed and lucky here in Portland, Oregon to have the Multnomah County Library System. It gave a sense of fullness to my children's lives (on a single mother's budget)!


  2. Wonderful post. We definitely have a book-filled home... so much so that my daughter's third word was "book!"