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As back to school season approaches, research findings on U.S. “book deserts” and lack of diverse books for children prompts response to education inequities in underserved communities

August 25, 2021

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SAN FRANCISCO – Aug. 25, 2021 –Room to Read, the global education organization focused on children’s literacy and girls’ education, today released research and feasibility study findings that underscore education inequities persist for underserved children in the U.S. when they do not have access to children’s books, particularly books that do not reflect their diverse identities and experiences. This study, conducted by independent researchers, is titled “MISSING OUT: Education Inequality for U.S. Children Deepened by Book Deserts and Lack of Diverse Representation in Children’s Literature” and was funded by Tatcha, the global skincare brand that has invested in Room to Read’s programs since 2014.  The research study identifies geographical areas where investments in education equality would make the greatest impact through Room to Read’s unique expertise in children’s literacy development and book publishing for diverse and under-resourced communities. 

Despite the U.S. being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the research findings demonstrate that learning opportunity is not equitably distributed. Systemic racism in the U.S. has resulted in school segregation based on race. Financing of schools is primarily sourced from funds obtained through local property taxes; hence, the spending per pupil can vary greatly based on geographic location and local wealth or income levels, driving further inequity in the system.  Data confirms that segments of the population are underserved by the U.S. educational system including children from Black, Latinx, Native American and white American communities where high levels of poverty and rural environments create extreme barriers to learning. Children in foster care as well as children from immigrant and refugee populations also face increased vulnerabilities.

A key finding of the study is that children in the poorest communities do not have sufficient access to books in order to develop proficient literacy skills, develop a habit of reading and become lifelong learners. The number of books in the home correlates significantly with higher reading scores for children; yet, at least half of homes across the U.S. do not have 100 books in them, qualifying them as “book deserts,” a term coined by the organization Unite for Literacy to describe geographic areas where reading materials are difficult for children to obtain in their home and community. Book deserts exist at higher rates in poor counties across the U.S. and for Black and Latinx families. In fact, 61% of low-income families have no books at all in their homes for their children. Room to Read’s expertise working with local authors, illustrators, publishers, and printers to develop books quickly at high-quality to meet specific community needs, irrespective of profitability, makes the organization particularly well-suited to tackle the lack of diversity and accessibility to high-quality children’s books in low-income communities.

“Every child deserves the opportunity to benefit from books as gateways to learning and positive life outcomes,” said Dr. Geetha Murali, Room to Read CEO. “Room to Read’s collection of over 3,200 high-quality children’s book titles and adaptations in 43 languages, with supporting guidance for educators and families to use these books in the classroom and at home, is a cornerstone of our approach to fostering a habit of reading among children and inspiring future leaders.” 

The study also finds that racial diversity in children’s books is seriously lacking in the U.S. Research shows that books about and by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are an overwhelming minority of all children’s books, with 83.4 percent of children’s books being about white characters, animals and things and 88 percent of children’s books being published by non-BIPOC people.

“When children see their own lives reflected on the pages of a book, it validates their experiences, and when they read about those who are different, it helps combat pervasive stereotypes,” said Christabel Pinto, Senior Director of Room to Read’s Global Literacy Program. “Room to Read’s extensive global experience in publishing books has resulted in millions of children reading stories of diverse characters that are underrepresented in books.”

Based on the study findings, Room to Read will work in targeted geographic areas and across populations in the U.S. with some of the greatest educational needs, with a primary focus on the diversity of representation in, and the voices elevated through, children’s book publishing. The organization is acutely focused on where its programmatic expertise can support local organizations, strengthen systems and deliver considerable impact.


About Room to Read

Founded in 2000 on the belief that World Change Starts with Educated Children®, Room to Read is creating a world free from illiteracy and gender inequality. We are achieving this goal by helping children in low-income communities develop literacy skills and a habit of reading, and by supporting girls to build skills to succeed in school and negotiate key life decisions. We collaborate with governments and other partner organizations to deliver positive outcomes for children at scale. Room to Read has benefitted more than 23 million children across 20 countries and over 40,700 communities and aims to reach 40 million children by 2025. Learn more at


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Room to Read



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Room to Read