Reading is such an important part of childhood. From beautifully illustrated children’s books to LGBTQ YA novels, books are a way for kids to develop rich imaginations, expand their worldviews and figure out who they want to be in the world. But not all kids in this country have equal access to these enriching adventures. A new study out of New York University’s (NYU) Steinhardt School found that three cities, in particular, are “book deserts,” AKA low-income neighborhoods where there are major shortages of children’s books: Detroit, DC and LA.

Cute boy reading book in library

The researchers analyzed two communities in each city: one categorized as high-poverty (40+ percent of people living in poverty) and one as a borderline impoverished community (18-40 percent poverty). They counted the number of books, magazines and newspapers for sale at locations within each neighborhood and found that three of the six neighborhoods had no bookstores at all. The most popular place to buy children’s books across all neighborhoods was dollar stores. And the difference between high-poverty and borderline neighborhoods was stark: In neighborhoods that were borderline, there were an average of 16 times more children’s books available per child than in high-poverty neighborhoods.

“Children’s books are hard to come by in high-poverty neighborhoods. These ‘book deserts’ may seriously constrain young children’s opportunities to come to school ready to learn,” said Susan B. Neuman, professor of childhood and literacy education at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author.

Neuman is especially referring to the “summer slide,” when kids forget a lot of skills they learned during the school year. The summer slide is a major problem for low-income areas, since kids have such limited resources (from camps to actual books) for learning when their schools are shuttered during summer break.

Librarian helping elementary age student read book in library


Detroit: Donate books or cash to Rx for Reading, an organization that distributes more than 1,500 children’s books per month to communities that need them. They even pay special attention to finding and distributing books with diverse characters, so every kid can see themselves represented in their new favorite books. We love that.

DC: Send your books to Books for America, an initiative that has donated almost a million books to schools, shelters and other deserving organizations.

LA: We recommend donating to Re-Book It, which is an organization that distributes donated books to local charities, homeless shelters, hospitals and schools that desperately need them.

Bonus points: You can arrange for all of these organizations to pick up your book donations if you’re in the area! And if you’re not, just mail your boxes of books to each organization’s address and they’ll take care of the rest.

What was your favorite book as a kid? Tweet us about it @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)