I’ve shared here before about the recent research conducted about the amazing impact of having books in the home. That longitudinal study, conducted in 27 countries over a 20-year period concluded that the single best index for predicting school achievement is the number of books in a child’s home. That beats parental education or income, the two indexes most often sited to make points about the impact of poverty and family education on the educational attainment of their children.
Why are books so powerful? Well, sitting alone on a shelf, they aren’t. However, the presence of interesting information and ideas alters the nature of the conversations held in the home. By inserting thought-provoking events, people and journeys into the everyday patter that goes on around most homes, daily conversation is transformed into a more advanced level of what the researchers called “Family Scholarly Culture.” That in turn stimulates the vocabulary, language development, deep thinking and problem solving that manifests in success in learning to read, in learning to communicate and in mastery of academic content found in school.
We fiddled around with the study’s results and came to the conclusion that a best first target for number of books in the home is 100. That is just about where the impact of each new book to the home begins to slow to a crawl. Prior to reaching 100 books, each new book brought into the home spurs sufficient reflection and conversation that a clear increase in school achievement is to be expected.
I’d like to call your attention to the other end of the trend line shown here, the end representing homes from zero to 10 books. You’ll note that the line connecting the dots that represents books in the home and school attainment is nearly vertical. At one end are the children of families with NO books in the home. That end is associated with about a 30 percent chance of completing 9th grade, the most common level associated with “basic” education around the world. Now, I call your attention to the point representing the prediction for children from families with only 10 books in the home. That figure now jumps to about 68 percent.
With only a minimum amount of figuring, that works out to an increment of nearly four percentage points for predicting 9th-grade graduation for every book brought into a home. Farther up the curve, the impact of adding another book to the home library is not nearly so pronounced of course, but even then, anything a family might do to increase their children’s chances of school success would be hard to ignore.
The message here is about the role that books play for us as a culture. Every library book, every digital book, every book received as a gift, every borrowed book, every school book, every book acquired at the garage sale, every book on the rack at the grocery, every book in the attic, every book in the waiting room. EVERY book matters in the success of our children.