Myers-Wilkins Elementary School principal Amy Worden has many goals for the new school year, but one she’s hoping to reach is sending each of her 380 students home with one book every month throughout the year.

A 2001 study by Susan B. Neuman, a professor of childhood and literacy education at New York University Steinhardt, found that in middle-income neighborhoods, there were 13 books for each child available, compared to only one age-appropriate book for every 300 children in low-income neighborhoods.

“That’s a stark contrast and really speaks to the issues around book access that we want to address,” Worden said.

At Myers-Wilkins, 78.8% of students were living in poverty as of Oct. 1, 2018, according to the Minnesota Department of Education data. Worden said that number was around 85% by June.

“The research says that students who are living without books are less likely to achieve at higher levels,” Worden said. “Our goal is really to do several things this year around literacy, and one important part of that is making sure that children have book access in their home.”

Worden said she and her staff looked at what they could influence in a positive way for their students. Reading at home and access to books are among those important things.

“Creating a reading culture at home has demonstrated impact on achievement and has improved grades and overall success in the future related to income, profession and employment,” Worden said. “The most important thing about this program is that kids get to pick a book that is interesting to them rather than what’s available on special deals through book programs.”

A stack of books sits in the offices at Myers-Wilkins. Principal Amy Worden hopes to send a new book home with each student each month during the school year. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com
A stack of books sits in the offices at Myers-Wilkins. Principal Amy Worden hopes to send a new book home with each student each month during the school year. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

The staff at Myers-Wilkins is working on finding a program that allows the school to purchase relevant books with diverse characters, varied themes and culturally relevant topics. The hope is to hook new readers, Worden said.

“Providing used books doesn’t have the same appeal when you’re trying to hook readers for the first time,” Worden said. “As adults, we’re pretty good at sharing books and once we read a good book we pass it along. It’s not the same for children. But after you hook a reader and you have a child seeing themselves as a reader, then they start to pass those shared books on.”

That’s the reason Worden said they are asking for donations to provide new or nearly new books for children, though they are always grateful to receive donated used books, too.

“When you get a soccer ball or when you get a musical instrument, you love the way that feels, and as you own it you start to see yourself as a soccer player or an athlete or a musician,” Worden said. “So the real goal here is to provide the new or almost new books so that the kids get that hook and start to feel like readers. Then we know they will start sharing books and trading books.”

Myers-Wilkins is also setting up a used book cart in the main entry so students are encouraged to grab a couple of books to take home and read over the weekend. And though the used books may help, Worden said they are usually books that are out of circulation that children just aren’t reading anymore.

So what are children reading today?

“Graphic novels are really important. They’re a nice medium for kids who still rely on pictures with their text in order to comprehend what they’re reading,” Worden said. “Also, sometimes the superheroes are extra fun in graphic novels.”

Worden said for just $10, she could give one student a new book each month for nine months. She said they are really going to have to leverage the school's bulk book-buying power to get the most out of the $10.

“If we can find enough donors who are willing to sponsor a year of reading at home for a child, we think we can make a really great impact for a really small dollar amount,” Worden said.

How to help

To donate, people can drop off cash, checks or money orders, or mail a check or money order to Myers-Wilkins Elementary, 1027 N. Eighth Ave. E., Duluth, MN 55805, Attn: Books for Kids.