We sometimes get puzzled looks from people when we share our vision with them: every child should own a hundred books by the age of five. Why so many books? Why must they own them? And why so early? In this newsletter, we share three of the important principles that inform our vision and guide our work, and the research that underpins it.
1. Book ownership
Book Dash works to improve book ownership, and we’re often asked whether access to books isn’t enough to open up the world to children. While access to books through school and community libraries is very important, research indicates that owning many books can completely alter a child’s future prospects, especially children born into contexts of poverty.
M.D.R. Evans is a professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada. Her work is key to our thinking about book ownership. With colleagues from across the world, she conducted a study of 27 countries to explore how a “scholarly culture” and its associated cultural capital is created, as this has been shown to be pivotal to academic success. Here’s what they found: “Having many books in the home gives children a measurable advantage at school, equal to 3.2 more years of schooling. Books in the home are the single biggest indicator of academic success, equal to parents’ education, and more so than socio-economic status”. In a profoundly unequal society like South Africa, this is a game changer.
2. Early intervention
The second body of research has to do with when children should start owning books, and when the adults in their lives should start reading to them. Logically, we should only give children books when they can read, right? Wrong! The earlier we invest in at-risk children, the bigger their chance of success, and the greater the social and economic benefit to society. James Heckman is a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago. His “Heckman Equation” is very simple: The earlier the investment in disadvantaged children, the higher the return to society.
Currently society invests too much money on later development when it is often too late to provide great value. The economic benefits of investing early and building skill upon skill to provide greater success to more children and greater productivity, are clearly demonstrated in his work. Heckman’s work is one of the research pillars that informs UNICEF’s “Nurturing Care Framework” that promotes physical, emotional, social and cognitive development in very young children as a pathway towards peaceful and sustainable societies, and to eliminate extreme poverty and inequality.
In 2016, Professor Lynne Murray led a team of local and international child development experts in conducting a randomised controlled trial in Khayelitsha, working with mothers and their 14-16 month old infants. Some of the findings were that reading with babies and very young children is of significant benefit to the children’s attention span, language development, and social understanding, thereby improving their school-readiness and future chances of academic success… years before they enter formal schooling!
This is why Book Dash believes that each child should own one hundred books by the age of five, and why we’ve re-imagined the publishing process to make books far more cost-effective to produce, print and give away.
3. Book Gifting
We know that 58% of all households in South Africa do not own a single leisure book, and while the reasons for this may be complex, the cost of books is a key reason that books remain an unattainable luxury for many families. In addition, the pivotal role of books and reading in early stimulation and flourishing children is not universally understood.
This is true not only for South Africa, but throughout the world. From this reality a worldwide network of book gifting organisations was born, like the UK Book Trust, Boekstart in the Netherlands, and similar organisations in the USA, Australia, Japan, Finland, etc. All these organisations acknowledge the importance of giving books to families who cannot afford to buy them, and promoting positive messages around reading with children from early on. Most of these organisations are wholly or partially subsidised by their governments. In South Africa this is not the case, and that’s where Book Dash comes in.
Through innovative partnerships, we donate our books to children across the country to own. For example, in 2019, MySchool partnered with us to sponsor 50,000 books to be added to Santa Shoeboxes that are distributed to disadvantaged children. The wonderful Santa Shoeboxes go directly into the homes of these children, and by adding books to the box full of gifts, we are not only adding to the children’s delight, we are also providing the seed of a home library of books.
Join the movement
We are acutely aware that there are millions of children who are not yet reached by what we do, and that the need is big. This inspires us to do more, and we invite you to join the movement to put 100 books in every child’s home. Visit us at bookdash.org to find out how you can help.