Literacy Begins at Home

I ran across this recent article in the Guardian. You can find it HERE.

The piece discusses research correlating the number of books in a child’s home with some overall positive indicators. (I won’t try to summarize the research findings.) Suffice to say, one conclusion reached was that the number of books the child actually read is less relevant than the number of books they were surrounded with growing up.

After you have a chance to review the article, I’d love to hear everyone’s take on this odd correlation. What do you guys think contributes to this?

Looking forward to the comments. Thanks.

  • BGT


31 thoughts on “Literacy Begins at Home

  1. I think it may be similar to growing up with sports paraphernalia all around your home. You may not have athletic skills yourself, but you are being given a message as to what is important to your family and therefore should be important to you. I would think that a home where there are more sports items about than books would not put an emphasis on learning (subliminal or not) whereas a home with books around sends the message that reading/learning is important whether or not each book has been read. Then again perhaps it’s the Harold Hill ‘Think System’ of learning? Just lay your head down on the book and the information some how seeps into your head. Or as you pass by the books you ‘absorb the knowledge’?

  2. The further away I get from my childhood, the more I realize how wonderful it was. Aside from long European vacations, summers near the ocean and a deep sense of security, were books. We had a library full of literature, non-fiction, encyclopedias and various periodicals. My parents were fortunate to work as English teachers because of a sizable inter-generational trust, which still infuses the next generation, although not as much anymore. We never had the flash growing-up, and my parents were frugal. But there were always books. My father recommended D.H. Lawrence at one point in my early 20s. In my teens I read Hemingway, Faulkner, Bellow and Hawthorne. My father could recite Shakespeare. .I memorized some Frost. My mother still reads Henry James. When we moved into our current academic year house 22 years ago, we book shelves built, and our library has a thread-bare rug from my parents’ house. We never had cable television. Our children were read to from an early age. Now they are thriving in college. Books are part of the fabric of our life. As always, your book, and this blog are deeply validating.

  3. I’ll echo the previous two comments. Very similar ideas and upbringing on my part here. I recall all too well choosing to recite After Apple-Picking by Robert Frost (a loooooooong poem) for the monthly class recitation in the sixth grade. Painful, but I eventually nailed it. That was the same year my mother directed me to Baudelaire. Our own home now is overflowing with books, and our third grader, on his recent 9th birthday, retired to the fireside once the gifts had been opened and the chocolate cake finished with. . . You guessed it. A new set of 10 books about mouse journalist Geronimo Stilton, who has been a favorite since last year. We’ve read over 40 of them since Christmas night 2017. He has even begun writing his own books since the summer, typically featuring a young boy forced to do a million household chores, go to bed early, take numerous baths each day, and do lots of homework while the neighbor children are outside having visible fun. The real picture isn’t quite that bleak, but he get great pleasure from reading his stories to us and making Mom and Dad laugh at the antics of his fictitious self.

    1. A writer in the family! Oh, Heinz-Ulrich, my congratulations and condolences go out to you simultaneously. (Wink, nod.) I’ll look forward to announcing and promoting your son’s first book here on the blog. Thank you for sharing… – BGT

  4. The Australian data supposedly controlled for IQ. That is surprising. I’d have surmised this was a case of “Nature” vs. “Nurture”. Smart people produce, on average, smart children. Smart people tend to own more books. Even if their children don’t read much during childhood, the number of books in the household would seem to be indicative of parental intelligence (those who are purchasing the books). That children in homes with more books probably perform better because of inherited intelligence rather than because they were surrounded by more books seems logical enough. Of course, smart people also have more stable marriages, higher incomes, etc., which contributes to a more nurturing home environment. I would still bet that the larger number of books in the household is an effect of intelligence/success, rather than a cause.

  5. I was blessed to grow up in a home with a large library including hundreds of books purchased and lovingly maintained by my parents. Every Saturday afternoon included a visit to the local library. Every Christmas and birthday was an occasion to offer and exchange books. At least once every season each year a train trip was scheduled to downtown Chicago – not only to go to The Art Institute – but to go to Brentano’s. I can still recall the inevitable ‘You know The Rule, Janet. Only one book; you’ll have to put the rest of them back.” All of us read on a daily basis; I can’t remember a time when mealtimes didn’t include ‘a literary update’ from each of us. To this day, I’m still more than happy to offer ‘my take’ on a book I’m reading even if I have to stop some poor stranger to do so. As I write this I’m surrounded by my favorite and well-loved books along with my other cherished treasures. And I wouldn’t change a thing! Whether we’re simply surrounded by books or we actually read and enjoy them, either way – doing so educates, entertains, enhances, and encourages us to grow and soar as we live life!

    Best regards Byron,
    Release new book SOONEST, please,
    Jan Bowman

    1. Thank you for sharing, Jan. What a great environment to grow up in. FYI…We’re doing a final review of the manuscript at present. The book will go to the interior designer the first week of December. (Yes, even books need interior designers…) Cover art is in progress…It’s all just flowing like mud around here. Thank you for your interest and your support. – BGT

      1. Thank you for your gracious note! And the New Release update is wonderful news; you must possess a measure of PATIENCE that I always wished for but never achieved! I’ve no doubt the new book will be awe-inspiring!


  6. These posts are just lovely. They echo my own upbringing and mirror the way we are raising our son. We don’t have a tv room. Rather, we have a library (Victorian home, walls full of books, fireplaces). The first 2 books we read to our newborn were the Iliad (Fagles) and Heaney’s Beowulf. Our son hit all his linguistic milestones early and is intellectually vibrant. Much of the above struck chords with us…. these are the things we hope to give our family: books, security, travel, time by the sea, athletics, etc. etc. Many thanks for such wonderful reflections!

    1. Good for you, Rachel. What a lucky son you have. If possible, would you share a reading list that he has? I’m never sure what books are appropriate for what age. Maybe others have comments as well. Thanks, BGT

      1. Dear Mr. Tully,
        Thank you for your kind question. It is a bit difficult to answer because we try to include our son Winston in our own reading lists and projects. As I (superficially) understand, it is important to introduce children to complex vocabulary and ideas at all ages, as long as you can find a way to keep them engaged. For example, my husband recently read an article about the ways in which President Lincoln was an extraordinary auto-didact. He was known to stay up late at night in the White House reading Euclid’s Elements in order to better himself intellectually, etc. We thought this was interesting, so we found an old copy of Euclid’s Elements and showed it to our son. He loves the geometric figures and has turned it into a coloring book. We read it with him while he colors and we all get a mathematical refresher. We read him Dr. Seuss, but then we also read him contemporary poets like Ocean Vuong and Jorie Graham. For very young children, we found the Baby Loves Science series by Ruth Spiro and Irene Chan to be excellent. Winsont’s favorite book will probably always be Baby Loves Thermodynamics from that series. We share everything we are reading with Winston, including blogs, newspaper articles, magazines, books, anything! We read with him in multiple languages. We might take one paragraph from a difficult book and turn it into a silly song to sing with our son. Basically, we have found that it’s less about age-appropriate materials and more about sharing the learning experiences and observing/encouraging our son’s engagement. We also just let him loose with books and see what he likes. Our son seems to gravitate towards science texts and anything he can sing. I fear this is not very helpful! My advice, should anyone be looking for age-appropriate reading materials to give a child: either give something meaningful to you with careful instructions (even if it is beyond their level now, they will appreciate it later) or ask a good book store clerk.

  7. My guess is that the parents that keep many books in the house care more about academics then parents without. With my son the only thing I don’t have to curate are books, I tell him I will get him whatever he wants (no picture books) or go into our home library. I do have a room in the back area of the house with a TV in it. We get so few channels we use it for public TV and an occasional sporting event. In terms of internet the only reason I have it at this point is because of his school ! They use google classroom. To be fair his school district really does have a great reading program.

    In the past few years I have seen a decline in the use of reading devices on the train I take into the city and more physical books. Also if you are looking to buy a holiday gift for a loved one our yourself, take a look at the New York Review of books classics book club. Reprints of out of print European authors.

    1. Interesting observation, Bob. The return of print. And thank you for the suggestion about the NY Review. I’m sure our readers will appreciate it, as do I. – BGT

  8. Literacy begins at home!

    “In education the absolute value of the aesthetic activity should be recognised, and that not merely in relation to works of art, but also in relation to the universe. A boy should be made to understand that when he perceives the beauty of anything, he is exercising an activity of the spirit, whether it be the beauty of nature or the beauty of art. He should be taught that to see beauty is not merely to amuse yourself, but to be aware of a glory of the universe, and that it is an end of life to be aware of this glory. 

    “Therefore, one chief reason of education should be to insist that truth is always desirable for its own sake, and no matter what its consequences may seem to be. It should encourage the spiritual desire for truth no less than the spiritual desire for goodness. It should insist that the function of the intellect is to discover truth, not to discover reasons for doing what we want to do. And it should therefore never discourage in the learner any desire for truth, however inconvenient it may be. A boy should feel that his parent or his master has a common interest with him in discovering the truth, not that his elders are in a conspiracy to conceal it from him. “ A. CLUTTON-BROCK

  9. Ditto to every comment above and I will add that I believe being surrounded by books helps to stimulate creativity and a love of the learning in children. I worked as the fundraising director for a public library when my son was younger. He was literally surrounded by books from an early age, was able to come to my workplace and choose from thousands of books to read, sometimes reading 5-7 a week, and I noticed with each successive book read he was able to take what he read and apply it to other things that were happening in his life, sometimes coming up with answers and solutions arrived at through what he has read. Now at 17, he has two well worn library cards, one like local and one county and is well known for his steady use of interlibrary loan since he’s read practically every book in our library.

  10. Hi Byron. While I completely agree with your post and all of the comments written, I’m going to take a somewhat contrary approach. I did not have the good fortune to be raised in a household with many books where reading was encouraged. However, as a young mother, (many, many years ago) I remember being bored when I put my baby down for her naps. I didn’t want to make any noise to disturb a sleeping baby…God forbid! So, I picked up my first book I received on loan from a neighbor and started to read it. It was “Gone With the Wind” and I was hooked on reading ever since. It was the first time I experienced being able to go somewhere else in your mind without ever leaving your living room.

    I have been a voracious reader ever since, and I’ve moved on to different subjects and authors. I prefer non-fiction, as I like to learn something when I’m reading, but I will read most anything that keeps my interest. I recently completed, at your suggestion, “Count of Monte Cristo.” Anyway, my point is, and I did have one, is that while not being raised with books, I learned to enjoy reading as an adult. So, does it come from childhood exposure, or is it something inherent in the individual? Either way, my latest is calling from the other room where I left it on the table. Time for some tea, reading, and watch the snow fall here in Vermont.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Bev. I’m sure environment contributes mightily, but so does curiosity. Reading lights a fire. There’s no formula for when the fire will start or how long it will burn. Good for you. Snow! Enjoy! – BGT

  11. As we begin the Holiday Season, I want to share one final thought because Literacy can END at home as well. Shortly after Thanksgiving years ago, my remarkable mother (see previous posts) suffered three massive strokes and although she survived them, she lived out her final 10 years in a coma. She couldn’t communicate and had no recognizable signs of comprehension other than occasionally her eyes were open. Because she and my father had made a devout promise to each other years before and because we were able to do so, we kept her at home with us and while she had nurses during the week for her physical needs, my father and I stepped up on the weekends. Because of their extraordinary love and devotion to each other and to their adored books – MY FATHER READ BOOKS TO HER EVERY DAY FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE. If she was never aware of anything else, in her heart she must have known she was loved, and cared for, and that she would be ‘hearing a good book – narrated by the love of her life – sometime soon’.

    I also want to add one more thing because I’ve just finished my Christmas shopping. My mother always received an ‘important’ piece of jewelry each Christmas along with her prized books.. In addition, my father gave her an animated stuffed toy i.e. Hungry Hippo, Dancing Duck, Conniving Raccoon, Gyrating Giraffe, et al – you ‘catch my drift’. Guess which present was THE MOST ANTICIPATED AND APPRECIATED AND ENJOYED – by the entire family year after year. Finding the BEST ONE OF THE YEAR is still the Christmas family tradition; it never fails to delight all of us at all of our various ages. And no doubt, my parents are still looking forward to watching over our shoulders as we open our Christmas books and animated stuff animals.

    I can confidently predict (having just finished my order) the ‘winner’ of the family competition for books and ‘toy’ will be me!

    Happy Holidays,

  12. We didn’t have a proper library as in well-to-do houses — a grand room with books from floor to ceiling. Instead, we had an antique wardrobe repurposed as book storage, plus books piled up on chairs and commodes across the house. In the drawing room we kept larger books on arts an architecture. Since the family is binational, with French originally as lingua franca, the books were accordingly. Learning a new language as a child opens doors that even (translated) books do not.

    So, yes, I agree with the article and Karl’s comment, above. It’s not about the number of books children read, but the intellect and values they are surrounded with.

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