The Home Library Effect: Transforming At-Risk Readers

By Justin Minkel

Melinda started 2nd grade with everything against her. She lives in poverty, her mom is not literate in English or Spanish, and she was severely abused at the age of 6. At the beginning of the year, she owned only one book.

Despite these barriers, Melinda made extraordinary academic progress. She moved from a kindergarten level (a four on the Developmental Reading Assessment) to a 4th grade level (a 40) in the two years she was in my class. Her demeanor changed: She began smiling and laughing more often, and she became a confident scholar.

Part of the reason for Melinda's growth is elusive—that combination of resiliency, strength, and utter grit that awes those of us lucky enough to teach these remarkable children. But another reason for her success is simple—instead of one book at home, Melinda now has a home library of 40 books.

The Project We called our classroom adventure "The 1,000 Books Project." Each of the 25 children in my class received 40 books over the course of 2nd and 3rd grade, for a total of 1,000 new books in their homes.

The project was simple to launch. Scholastic donated 20 books per child, and I purchased the other 20 through a combination of my own funds, support from individuals and local organizations, and bonus points. The kids received three types of books each month: copies of class read-alouds, guided reading books, and individual choices selected from Scholastic’s website.

Working with family members, each child chose a space to become a home library, ranging from a cardboard box decorated with stickers to a wooden bookcase. Through class discussions and our class blog, the students talked about everything from how they organized their libraries to their favorite reading buddy at home.

The total cost for each student's home library was less than $50 each year, a small investment to move a struggling reader from frustration to confidence.

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