Homes with children need books

A few months ago I had to leave my privately rented house. Along with my husband and 3 children, I was forced to pack up one home and source another very quickly. In the end, from the point of being served an ultimatum by my landlord to walking through the front door of my new home took only 4 weeks and 3 days.

Such a tight turnaround was not without its challenges. The packing up was difficult on a number of levels and required hiring an enormous skip into which we threw many of the young family possessions accumulated over five years. A couple of images remain with me from that purge: first, the sorry sight of teddies and other soft toys contorted under mounds of multi-coloured plastic toys (will you ever forgive me Igglepiggle?). Secondly, the books. Books I had carried with me across continents; had chosen to accompany me through early to mid-adulthood; had called in from the lofts and bookshelves of others when I’d felt I was settled enough to do so. Of all I threw into that skip, it was the destruction of the books that hurt the most.

On Twitter a few weeks ago, someone shared a Japanese word: ‘Tsundoku’ which cleverly and succinctly describes a person who acquires books but then doesn’t actually read them leaving them untouched on bookshelves, bedside tables and windowsills. That’s me. I love having books even though I don’t read many of them anymore. Having books has always made the places I’ve lived feel more like a home. Everywhere I have lived I’ve displayed them because they amaze, inspire and comfort me. When I dumped lots recently it was only because I had to move as quickly and efficiently as possible and they took up too much space. It was a heart-breaking but practical decision.

Now, it turns out that my ‘Tsundoku’ tendencies and affection for books, far from being a quirk are a good thing for my children. Researchers at the University of Nevada  have noted that simply having books in a home has profound effects on the educational level a child is likely to reach. 500 books in a home will have the same positive effect on a child’s attainment as both parents having been educated to University level. If you haven’t got 500, no matter- as many books as you can manage will result in a degree of educational level uplift. As a general rule, the more books in the home; the greater the educational life chances; therefore earning potential; therefore quality of life, a child can expect.

Significant statistics. It strikes me as I reflect on my own experience of book off-loading that the parent on limited income who is moving from one form of accommodation to another on a regular basis-a situation becoming more and more prevalent (every six months for some unfortunates)- is unlikely to accumulate a library that moves with them. Like me, they will find those books are just too heavy and bulky to transport easily. Moving is expensive and time consuming, you want to cut costs where you can or limit the number of trips the friend with a car needs to make to get you to your new place. In addition, six months or a year in a place will not build a home library. Libraries need time and sufficient time in one place is what is sorely lacking for many experiencing unstable forms of tenure.

Ultimately, children and their families need the security and stability that comes from having a home which belongs to them for as long as they need it. Otherwise, these children end up being denied the opportunities they most certainly deserve to construct better lives for themselves and that is simply unfair.



5 thoughts on “Homes with children need books

  1. My parents mantra (before there where mantras and long before T Blair) was education, education, education. They had only a little themselves, but enough to know its value. 3 children went to university in the ’70s when only 5% of age group did. And real books were so important as I recall. So grateful.

    1. An achievement indeed!
      I think we all know the importance of books but it’s so interesting to see some research ‘proving’ it with figures to boot.
      I’m aware this might seem like a small point to write a post on but for me it is just one more way in which living in an insecure form of tenure impacts negatively on life. I find it especially upsetting when I come across anything related to the chances children have. I think that is because I too made it to Higher Education when my chances were low. I feel like living in one place in a council house for most of my childhood contributed to that.
      Thanks for commenting and sharing some of your experience!

  2. This is such an interesting angle, Fiona! I too need to be surrounded by books and often have had to decide to offload other stuff just so I could hang on to that box of books a little longer in the context of a move. But indeed, if we hadn’t had to move so many times in our private tenants’ lives, we would have many more books than we do, for all the reasons you so eloquently present.
    Thank you, as ever, for drawing our attention to all the factors that make it so bloody difficult and soul-mining to be a private tenant in the UK nowadays.

    1. Hi Isabelle-you and I know only too well the difficulties of bringing up a family in privately rented accommodation. Difficulties which just seem to be ever increasing. I think you, like me, love books and do what you can to keep them.I also know you to be university-educated.That level of education is significant only in that it is likely to influence our children to gain that level of education themselves. With higher levels of education comes more choices. What worries me is that those children of parents in the PRS who have not had the advantages that a higher educational level bring, are potentially missing out on that ‘betterment’. It just feels like another way in which some children are potentially disadvantaged in this case because they have to move at low cost too many times
      Hope you’re enjoying the summer

  3. This is such a good point! My parents were not university educated but they always read to us, got books from the library and though we moved a lot and they didn’t keep a lot of books, they allowed me to keep my treasured books. I’m sorry you had to get rid of some of yours–come and help me trim my oversupply by taking some of mine one day.

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