The Plan To Give E-Books To Poor Kids | KERA News

The Plan To Give E-Books To Poor Kids

Apr 30, 2015
Originally published on April 30, 2015 7:19 pm

Brown Bear, Brown Bear what do you see?

I see a blue horse, a purple cat, and a new program — unveiled today by President Obama — with one goal in mind:

To put good books in the hands of low-income kids.

More specifically, $250 million worth of e-books available to young, low-income readers — free. The effort will work through a new app, being developed by the New York Public Library, that has the buy-in of all the major publishers.

"Children should not be unable to get reading materials because their parents don't have money," says Carolyn Reidy, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, which has offered up all of its titles for kids from 4 to 14.

Candlewick Press, publisher of the popular Judy Moody series, is also opening its catalog.

"We really, really care about getting books to all kids," says Candlewick CEO Karen Lotz. "Kids who can't afford them. Kids who are in rural areas and not near bookstores."

If there's a fly in the ointment, it's one little letter: e.

Publishers aren't giving kids a quarter of a billion dollars' worth of free books. They're free e-books. Which require two things:

A good Internet connection — at least at school if not at home — and some sort of device to read them.

And that's a challenge. According to the Census Bureau, in 2013 nearly 40 percent of households that earned less than $25,000 a year didn't have a computer. Forty percent. And fewer than half had an Internet subscription.

The Obama administration can't simply give a computer or tablet to every kid who wants to read an e-book. But it has made it a priority to get broadband into just about every public school and library by 2018.

The nation's chief technology officer, Megan Smith, says part of the plan involves "really leveraging libraries as a third place; if families don't have access to devices at home, the children can get to the library and [get in] that habit."

To help make that happen, the White House is also running a program in more than 30 cities and counties to give every student a library card.

As for the e-book titles that will be available through the new program, it's a growing list that includes Dr. Seuss, Twilight and, of course, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

I see a red bird, a green frog and a new government program. Today, President Obama unveiled an initiative aimed at getting more books to low-income children. From the NPR Ed team, Cory Turner reports.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Let's start with the president earlier today, telling kids at the Anacostia Library in Washington, D.C., just how old he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There was something called The Hardy Boys back in the day. I know you guys don't read that probably anymore, but...

TURNER: Their response - a few laughs, mostly crickets. After Obama professed his love for Treasure Island," the student moderator took pity on him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: And to make you feel younger, my best friend read "Treasure Island."

OBAMA: Well, that does make me feel better.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: Yeah.

TURNER: In addition to sharing his early reading list, Obama also unveiled a plan to make over $250 million worth of e-books available to young, low-income readers for free. The effort will work through a new app being developed by the New York Public Library that has the buy-in of major publishers.

CAROLYN REIDY: Children should not be unable to get reading materials because their parents don't have money.

TURNER: Carolyn Reidy is president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, which has offered to make available all of its titles for kids from 4 to 14. Candlewick Press, which publishes the popular "Judy Moody" series, is also opening its catalog, says CEO Karen Lotz.

KAREN LOTZ: We really, really care about getting books to all kids, kids who can't afford them, kids who are in rural areas and not near bookstores.

TURNER: If there's a fly in the ointment here, it's one little letter - E. Publishers aren't giving kids a quarter of a billion dollars' worth of free books. They're free e-books, which require two things - a good Internet connection - at least at school if not at home - and, says Reidy of Simon & Schuster...

REIDY: They do however need to get machines in all these schools, which we can't help them with.

TURNER: According to the Census Bureau, in 2013 nearly 40 percent of households that earned less than $25,000 a year did not have a computer - 40 percent - and less than half had an Internet subscription. The Obama administration can't simply give a computer or tablet to every kid who wants to read an e-book. But it has made it a priority to get broadband into just about every public school and library by 2018. Megan Smith, the nation's chief technology officer, says that's key.

MEGAN SMITH: Really leveraging the libraries as a third place; if families don't have access to devices at home, the children can get to the library and getting that habit.

TURNER: To help make that happen, the White House is also running a program in more than 30 cities and counties to give every student a library card. As for the e-book titles that'll be available through the new program, it's a growing list that includes "Dr. Seuss," "Twilight" and, of course, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" I see a blue horse, a purple cat and Cory Turner, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.