Mariah Evans invited audience members at the Kansas City Public Library’s Central Library to close their eyes and visualize the first book they received as a child.
Remember the feeling, she said, of holding the book, of turning its pages, of learning that the sentences moved from left to right across the pages.
“It’s really a whole new world when you open that first book,” Evans said May 12 at her presentation The Book Benefit, co-presented with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. “The first couple of ones are so important.”
The significance of those first few books is a topic that Evans, associate professor of sociology at the University of Nevada, Reno, spent decades studying. Published in 2010 with Evans as its lead author, “Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations” concluded that children growing up in homes with many books receive three years more schooling than children from homes without books, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class.
The study included data from representative national samples in 27 nations, with more than 70,000 cases – and its key findings hold true regardless of a country’s overall socioeconomic or political status.
Reading is important for children from all socioeconomic backgrounds, but it especially holds importance for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, Evans said. Some factors in children’s lives may not be changed, such as parents’ education levels, their professions, and marital status, she said, but the introduction of books through visits to the library or books given as a birthday present are still critical.
“The first couple of books make the most difference,” Evans said. “Reading and having even just a few books in the home makes a big difference.” Children with as few as 25 books in home – whether they are personally owned, on loan from the library, or both – often read at higher reading levels and make stronger strides in cognitive development.
While Pages & Chapters formed one year after the publication of Evans’ research, the organization incorporates several elements of the study’s findings through its mission statement and goals – and especially through its core program, Open Books. Children continue to grow their personal libraries at each Open Books literacy session as they are invited to take home one brand-new book, made possible by the organization’s partnership with Barnes & Noble on the Country Club Plaza and the greater Kansas City community’s donations at each holiday season.
Back to that first book: For Evans, the first book she remembers holding, turning the pages, and reading was Green Eggs and Ham. Fifty-five years after its original publication, the Dr. Seuss classic remains one of the top-selling children’s books of all time – and it often is found among the books for choosing to take home at Pages & Chapters literacy sessions.
By Adrianne DeWeese
Pages & Chapters Board Member