Have you ever come across a Little Free Library? Opening the doors is like discovering a hidden treasure filled with stories to read and new worlds to explore. Page Ahead is helping children experience these joys right in their own neighborhood. Through its Book Oasis project, this literacy organization is building Little Free Libraries just for kids, with a focus on underresourced communities. In doing so, they are working to ensure that all kids, regardless of socioeconomic barriers, have access to books and the opportunity to fall in love with reading at a young age.
We connected with Rebecca Brinbury, Page Ahead’s development manager, to learn more about the organization and its empowering work in our community.
How did Page Ahead begin?
Page Ahead started as a book-drive project called Books for Kids. It was created by six friends, who came together through a program called Leadership Tomorrow, to provide new books to children in the Puget Sound area. The group wanted to give children books for “enjoyment reading” to help them develop a love of reading and enhance their literacy skills. In 2001 the name was changed from Books for Kids to Page Ahead Children’s Literacy Program, signifying the organization’s expansion from a book giveaway to a more comprehensive literacy program. And now we’re celebrating more than 30 years of giving kids in need the chance to read! Since our founding in 1990, we’ve put more than 3.5 million books in the hands of more than 950,000 children.
Can you tell us a little about the work of Page Ahead?
Page Ahead’s goal is to close the opportunity gap in literacy experienced by students from low-income families in Washington State. Reading is one of the most important things a child needs to master in order to do well in school and to fully participate in society. And they need to master reading early: 75 percent of children who struggle with reading in third grade will still have a tough time by the time they get to high school. So early intervention is key, particularly around increased access to books.
What does early intervention look like?
There are two significant periods in a young child’s reading development where gaps can form: before they begin school and then during summer vacations. Page Ahead works to break down barriers to achievement for children furthest from educational justice. By providing reading interventions that support children and families in communities of concentrated low income during pre-kindergarten and the summer months, Page Ahead works to help all children become successful readers.
We're really excited to help stock up your Little Free Libraries this summer with some of our children's books through the Book Oasis project. Can you tell us a little more about how that program began?
A “book desert” is an area where it is hard to obtain books and other reading materials. Lack of reading material at home contributes to the perpetuation of generational poverty, disenfranchisement, and economic oppression—and even when accounting for the presence of public libraries or bookstores, children in majority low-income communities tend to have access to fewer books and of lower quality. But research shows that easy access to books and reading in childhood is one of the greatest predictors of future success—even controlling for parental education level and income. Having books in the home, and reading them early and often with children is a crucial part of our society’s fight for equity in education and opportunities.
Page Ahead’s Book Oasis project installs, maintains, and refills Little Free Libraries in Seattle-area neighborhoods with the most limited access to books. Originally conceived of in fall 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which made it harder for kids to find new books to read with school and public libraries closed, each Book Oasis provides a constantly refilled pipeline of brand-new, high-interest titles for babies through young adults from Page Ahead’s book stock.
Custom designed for little browsers (including shelves closer to the ground that face book covers out), each Book Oasis is maintained and refilled by Page Ahead volunteers.
What inspires you about the work you do?
With the work we do at Page Ahead specifically, for me, it comes down to the fact that how much power you have to participate in our society comes in large part from what information you have. Illiteracy is a tool of oppression. But the good news is this is a problem we know how to fix—when you make interesting books available to kids, they will read! And when you read often, your reading skills become stronger.
To learn more about how you can support Page Ahead programs through volunteer opportunities, donations, and book drives, click here.