December is the time of year we focus on giving to friends and family, whether it be for a holiday or in spirit of the coming new year. Most of these gifts are material things: new purse, new laptop, new phone, or just maybe you’re the person who actually asks for new socks. Often times, though, the biggest and most valued gifts can be intangible.
Usually in December, we send readers a Holiday Gift Guide of fantastic books for yourself or the reader in your life. But such a list truly reaches those who already a great interest in reading. It leaves out those who haven’t had the chance or access to fall in love with reading, and does nothing to fight back against ongoing censorship battles and rampant discouragement of reading. In Texas, Tennessee, Florida (and many other states), censorship is on the rise. Getting books into the hands of children and young people is becoming an increasing challenge. Not only that, but maintaining children’s access to encouraging, diverse, and representative literature continues to be a daily struggle for schools and libraries across the country. This year, Three Rooms Press is hoping you’ll consider giving the gift of continued education or improved literacy to vulnerable populations and communities all over the US that are being discouraged and cut off from reading.
According to the organization Reading is Fundamental, research based on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores shows that 34% of US children entering kindergarten lack the basic skills needed to learn how to read and that 67% of US 4th graders read below grade level; this contributes to 8,000 students dropping out of high school every day.
Below are some great organizations to consider donating to–whether it be monetarily or with your time, or even by boosting their information online:
Starting in 1995, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a book gifting program that mails free, high-quality books to children from birth to five years old, no matter their family’s income. As of November 2022, the Imagination Library has given out over 195 million books!
The National Coalition Against Censorship was formed by activists affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in response to the 1973 Supreme Court decision that narrowed First Amendment protections for sexual expression. The NCAC aims to provide direct intervention for communities facing and experiencing censorship including students, teachers, librarians, artists, writers, and protestors. Their mission statement is to “promote freedom of thought and inquiry and oppose censorship. When controversy occurs, [they] encourage and facilitate dialogue between divergent voices and perspectives, including those that have historically been silenced.”
Additionally, another organization doing great work to battle censorship is PEN America. PEN works to unite writers and allies of literature to “celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.” This organization was founded in 1922 and for 100 years has been doing incredible work raising awareness about the First Amendment on college campuses, focusing projects on the challenges for free expression in places like Ukraine and Iran, and starting such initiatives such as the Prison Writing Program.
“34% of US children entering kindergarten lack the basic skills needed to learn how to read and that 67% of US 4th graders read below grade level; this contributes to 8,000 students dropping out of high school every day.”
In 2002, NYC teacher Rebecca Howelett founded Literacy for Incarcerated Teens, recognizing the serious lack of access detained and incarcerated young people have to proper libraries and reading facilities. 96% of the 7000+ young people (ages 8-16) placed in the custody of The New York City Department of Juvenile Justice read two or more years below grade level. With donations, LIT works to order and maintain curriculum approved books and other reading materials to encourage young people to read and keep reading.
Over 120,000 people are incarcerated over the entire state of Texas. Inside Books Project is a community service volunteer organization based in Austin that sends free books and educational materials to incarcerated people in Texas. Inside Books is the only “books-to-prisoners” program in Texas. The organization works to promote reading, literacy, and education among those incarcerated, as well as educating the general public on issues of incarceration. In 2020, they received over 12,000 requests and sent out over 35,000 free books. You can donate, either money or books, or you can volunteer your time to create and send packages to those requesting reading material.
While IBP is focused on work that can be done for readers in Texas, for a more comprehensive and international list of “books-to-prisoners”, check out Prison Book Program.
This is no way a comprehensive list of how you can support the fight against censorship and lack of access to proper reading and education materials. On top of clicking through any of the above links, be sure to do a search for ways to support your local library or school district! It is more important than ever to fight back against censorship and other legislation putting limits on young people’s access to certain “banned” literature, as well as to uplift and support the very voices attempting to be silenced.Share This!