Can you imagine a childhood without books? Books educate, motivate and inspire. Books prepare us for success in school and beyond. And books open up new worlds of exploration and imagination. Sadly, a book-free home is all too real for many of the 16 million children living in poverty in the United States.

At a glance

Illiteracy has reached epidemic proportions in our country. And the lack of access to books is a key contributor to the never-ending cycle of educational disadvantage, with 64 percent of fourth-graders reading at or below the basic level and 93 million adults lacking sufficient reading skills to successfully contribute to society.

"Now is the time to support reading in our communities and work to get books into the hands of disadvantaged children across the country."

These figures are truly startling. And with the illiteracy crisis costing the U.S. economy $225 billion a year, we cannot avoid taking immediate action.

The good news is that we can address this problem. Research has shown that increasing access to books and giving children the choice to choose what they want to read improves academic performance and attitudes toward reading and learning. By making books available to those from low-income communities before achievement gaps emerge, we have the opportunity to level the playing field.

Reaching out

Now is the time to support reading in our communities and work to get books into the hands of disadvantaged children across the country. Consider volunteering for your school district or local library’s reading program. And encourage children to read daily, especially during long breaks from school—when those without access to books are at increased risk of falling behind their peers.

There’s magic in books, and the simple act of reading with our children has a profound impact on their educational development. By giving them choices and increasing access to books, we can make a lasting difference in the lives of those who need us most.