Kids in New York City have a shot at winning 100,000 free books to build their very own home library — but not if their counterparts in Boston have anything to do with it.
Both cities, along with San Francisco and Los Angeles, are contenders for the donation, which is part of the annual Soar with Reading campaign, a joint effort between JetBlue and Random House Children’s Books. As of Wednesday afternoon, Boston was in the lead with 57 percent of online votes, while New York was second with 25 percent.
Soar with Reading began as a way to provide books to kids in “book deserts,” areas where there is little to no access to age appropriate books. The term was coined by Susan B. Neuman, an NYU professor of childhood and literacy education, who has done studies on the matter for more than a decade.
“We’re just so conditioned that access to books is everywhere, we found that that is absolutely not the case,” said Icema Gibbs, director of corporate social responsibility at JetBlue, which sponsored Neuman’s 2016 study.
Gibbs is quick to point out that while New York has the second largest library system in the world, Soar with Reading isn’t “discounting the valuable nature of libraries. We’re talking about building your own library at home with books that you don’t have to return,” she said. “We’re trying to change behaviors, create access and help support the library system. I will use my own daughter as an example; she had choices to read from her own personal library or go to the library, and I think every child deserves that choice.”
To that point, Neuman added, “We always say that home libraries are single best predictor of childhood achievement.”
Neuman also confirmed that even with New York’s lauded library system, “book deserts” do exist and cited the Bronx, which lost its last remaining bookstore last year.
To help get New Yorkers involved in the Book Battle, Soar with Reading will host an event Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. at the Strand. Attendees will be able to vote for the city, sample Blue Marble ice cream and meet authors R.J. Palacio and Chris Grabenstein.
Since its inception in 2011, Soar with Reading has provided more than $2.75 million worth of books, and seen literacy and vocabulary scores and social engagement around reading rise in winning cities, from book donations and the rollout of book vending machines.
The 2018 winners will be announced in September, and voting takes place at SoarWithReading.com, which “really gives people the chance to make this an organic movement,” Gibbs said.
To us, that sounds like a challenge to give Boston a run for the lead, New Yorkers.