Book Rich Environments Initiative Is Trying To End "Book Deserts" By Putting Over 400,000 Books In The Hands Of Kids

Across the U.S., too many people live in "book deserts": places without bookstores and libraries in easy reach. These environments contribute to the so-called word gap — the disparity between the potential vocabularies of privileged and marginalized children — and this, in turn, leads to low test scores and literacy ratings among kids from book deserts. Now, the Book Rich Environments Initiative wants to put 422,000 books in the hands of the children who need them the most.

A collaboration between the National Book Foundation, Urban Libraries Council, National Center for Families Learning, and the U.S. Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development, the BRE Initiative will give more than 400,000 free books to HUD-assisted communities, according to a Thursday press release. The books will be distributed at "37 sites across 19 states," including the Anishinaabe reservations of Leech Lake, Red Lake, and White Earth.

The Big Five publishers — Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster — have all agreed to supply the BRE Initiative with books, as have Algonquin Books for Young Readers/Workman Publishing, Candlewick Press, and Scholastic. Children ages 0 to 18 will have access to age-appropriate books published in both English and Spanish by the eight houses listed above, which represent some of the biggest names in children's publishing, including Margaret Wise Brown, Tomie dePaola, John Green, Sabaa Tahir, Beverly Cleary, Madeleine L'Engle, and Meg Medina.

Public housing authority partners will distribute the books through three or more events held in each targeted location. Those locations are:

  • Phenix City, Ala.
  • Phoenix, Ariz.
  • Chandler, Ariz.
  • Contra Costa County, Calif.
  • Fresno, Calif.
  • Los Angeles, Calif.
  • Marin County, Calif.
  • San Diego, Calif.
  • San Joaquin County, Calif.
  • San Mateo County, Calif.
  • Stanislaus County, Calif.
  • Boulder, Colo.
  • Sarasota, Fla.
  • Tampa, Fla.
  • Nampa, ID
  • Pocatello, ID
  • Fort Wayne, Ind.
  • Topeka, Kan.
  • Cambridge, Mass.
  • New Bedford, Mass.
  • Springfield, Mass.
  • Anishinaabe Reservations, Minn.
  • Kansas City, Mo.
  • Billings, Mont.
  • Durham, N.C.
  • New York, N.Y.
  • Akron, OH
  • Cincinnati, OH
  • Brownsville, TX
  • Edinburg, TX
  • Harlingen, TX
  • Houston, TX
  • Gregory, TX
  • San Antonio, TX
  • Roanoke, Va.
  • Tacoma, Wash.
  • Washington, D.C.

The press release observes that giveaway events are often held in libraries and community centers, but that notable "[p]ast events have included a community barbeque in Cincinnati, a scavenger hunt in Springfield, MA, and an innovative plan to turn the otherwise tedious process of public housing renewal into a family-friendly book distribution event in Houston."

For more information on the BRE Initiative, visit the National Book Foundation's website.