The Same in Every Language: Connecting Children with Books

April 24, 2013

by Theresa Carl

One recent February morning while driving to the office, I heard a story on NPR that stopped me in my tracks. The piece was the inspiring tale of Saeed Malik and the Bright Star Mobile Library, a small project in Islamabad, Pakistan, that delivers books to children at public schools in the city. Mr. Malik spoke of the woeful encounters he’d had with very young children living in a country ravaged by war. He believed that putting books in the hands of the youngest Pakistani readers would be the surest way to effectively combat violence and ignorance. When he discovered that the vast majority of Islamabad’s public schools were without a basic library, he resolved to take the library to the schools – in neon splashed vans donated to Bright Star by the U.N. World Food Program, vans that had previously served as ambulances in Afghanistan. The Bright Star Mobile Library currently reaches more than 2,500 children at Islamabad public schools, and it expects to double that number within a few months.

While listening to this tale of one brave man’s mission half a world away, I reflected on how fortunate I am to live in a country that values education and access to educational resources. How different would my own life and that of my child have been in a society without a regard for books?

As president of the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation, I am fortunate to work with people who, like Mr. Malik, find hope and inspiration in the joy children get from reading books. As portals to the imagination, books help preschool children gain critical developmental skills from birth. New studies continually attest to just how important it is for parents to read with their children from birth. In January, for example, one notable team of researchers concluded that sustained and interactive reading can increase a child’s IQ by up to six points.

Of course, all the statistics in the world won’t make a bit of difference if a child lacks access to books. In Tennessee – thanks to the support of countless donors, volunteers, partners, government officials, parents, and many others – all children between birth and age five are eligible to receive one new, age-appropriate book once a month from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. For anyone who has never witnessed a child’s electric and contagious enthusiasm while she stands at the mailbox awaiting her monthly book, I encourage you to do so! This program provides a library of up to 60 free books to all enrolled children – a sacred gift – at no cost to families and regardless of income. With Imagination Library affiliate programs in all 95 Tennessee counties, Tennessee is the only state with 100 percent participation.

The NPR story on the Bright Star Mobile Library was moving for many reasons. Chief among them, though, was the humbling contrast between the bleak circumstances described in the story and the optimism I have for all of Tennessee’s children. Join me in spreading the good news that our state believes in the value of giving our youngest citizens access to wonderful books. Help us find new children to enroll so that we continually grow and plant the seeds of learning with young minds, eager to receive them.

Theresa Carl is president of the Governor's Books from Birth Foundation.