The Significance of Culturally-Relevant Reading Material

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I honestly cannot remember how I came to know Linda Smith and Reading Village.  What I DO remember is that Reading Village was early in its efforts and that Linda needed books to fuel her vision of furthering real educational opportunities for Guatemalan children. When we got on the phone together, I knew immediately that we were sisters.  We could hear in each other the same commitment to equality and the same belief that education is the central way to elevate populations in need. 

But in the U.S., Guatemala and nearly every country in the world, the same challenges exist.  From country to country there is one constant reality:  low-income communities lack access to even basic educational resources, especially those that are culturally-relevant. Meanwhile, more affluent neighbors enjoy a rich supply.

Access to age-appropriate books is critical for helping individual children reach their potential.  According to a 20-year study, the presence of even 20 or more books in the home improves children’s reading performance and is a stronger predictor of a child attaining a higher level of education  — “even above and beyond such factors as education level of the parents, the country’s GDP, the father’s occupation or the political system of the country.”

Researchers have also concluded that children of lesser-educated parents benefit the most from having books in the home.  And the more books at home, the greater the benefit (source).

Over the past decade, First Book has been honored to support the heroic work of Reading Village by providing access to high quality books for programs in Guatemala.   

As a non-profit social enterprise, First Book has developed market-driven models that enable formal and informal educators serving children in need, ages 0 – 18, to access the highest quality, new books, school supplies and educational and basic needs resources – either for free or at low cost. 

By aggregating the needs of our fast-growing network of 250,000 schools, afterschool programs and NGOs like Reading Village, First Book is able to purchase the books and resources those educators need in bulk at the lowest possible prices, which are made available through our e-commerce site, the First Book Marketplace.   

While First Book primarily operates in the U.S. and Canada, we are working to scale our efforts through partnerships with NGOs around the world.  In 2013, we launched the First Book Global Marketplace, with more than 1,000 culturally relevant titles.  The current selection includes board books, hard cover books, audio playback books, and paperbacks, including titles in English, Spanish and French.  And they include titles, like Abuela’s Weave, that feature Guatemalan culture.  In addition, through our Stories for All ProjectTM, First Book is working to increase diverse content in all forms.  This not only helps make books more relevant to children growing up in a variety of cultures and experiences, it also helps further understanding and empathy among all children.

In light of our shared passion for culturally-relevant reading material, we couldn’t be more thrilled to see Reading Village publish the first ever Kachiquel – Spanish bilingual storybook this spring. Capturing the stories passed on for generations brings a voice to the marginalized Mayan population and provides familiar content through which to grow the imagination and fuel the potential of a new generation of children.

By: Kyle Zimmer | President, CEO, and Co-Founder of First Book

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