What is a Book Desert?

“In the capital of the United States, we noticed that 833 children would have to share ONE book in order for them to read over the summer.”  This statement was made by Dr. Susan Neumann when interviewed about her research on book deserts.  Hearing this statistic would make anyone want to know more, and why, and how?  Dr. Susan Neuman defines a book desert as “a community that lacks books and access to books.”  Through years of research and studies, this was directly connected to high-poverty areas. 

For the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 4th and 8th graders are asked the following questions: 

  1. How many approximate books do you have in your household?  0-10, 11-25, 26-100, or more than 100?  
  2. How often do you choose to read for fun? never or hardly ever, about once or twice a month, about once or twice a week, or everyday/almost every day?  

According to the NAEP, the answer to these questions truly capture what the reading culture is in a home.  Not all homes grow up watching adults read for enjoyment, visiting the library on a weekend morning, or going to the bookstore to just browse. This is because of the lack of access to books in close proximity to their homes.  

Unite for LIteracy has found that homes with 100+ books in the home, directly correlates with higher reading measures compared to peers with less than 100 books, who most likely score lower.  Upon hearing this statistic, the solution seems simple.  Get more books!  But, the challenge is that higher poverty areas cannot get their hands on books as easily. 


According to Unite for Literacy “the very best predictor of school success across this array of rich and poor countries from every continent was the number of books in the home. Their data indicates that 100 seems to be the optimum number of books for early school success.”  The below image shows a map of the Metro Detroit area and the likelihood of 100+ books in the home.  Did you know… in Third grade, only 12.4 % of Detroit Public Schools Community District students scored proficient or higher in 2022-23 MSTEP, compared with 9 percent the previous year, and 11.9 percent in 2018-19. Important to note, the Michigan average for 3rd Grade ELA in 2023 was 40.9%.  

Looking at the map, areas of orange/red would be considered book deserts.  Find your local area.  Do you live in a book desert?  Do you live near a book desert?


Dr. Neumann suggests one solution is to “meet people where they are.”  Bring books to where families of young children already are, and make a wide genre of books accessible.  Since this study was released, the amount of initiatives working towards filling this need has increased.  Some of the places that Neumann added book access to were grocery stores, churches, community centers, and laundromats.  

Making Spirits Bright works towards the mission to add book access, by providing books through school Book Fairs, to teachers in schools with high poverty rates, and filling up libraries near Brilliant Detroit Community Centers, just to name a few.  It truly takes a village to work towards this effort.  Making Spirits Bright works with partners to improve this literacy epidemic. We are the force behind getting quality books that are diverse, relevant, and in good quality. We offer some literacy instruction through storytimes and parent education. Partners of ours such as Brilliant Detroit and United Way of Southeast Michigan, provide tutoring and reading lessons to children up to age eight.


If you would like to help Making Spirits Bright work towards bringing book access to book deserts, choose with your heart below!  Help us “one book at a time.” 

Bridge Detroit (article)

1600 716 Heather Wilson
1 Comment
  • Thank you Heather Wilson and Making Spirits Bright for bringing attention to the issue of book deserts especially in the Metro Detroit area. Thanks also for providing ways in which we can help to get more books into the homes of students. Keep up this good work!

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