Get Off Your Soap Box: Literacy

I have a few soap box issues.  Namely child welfare and literacy.  Now, child welfare is a pretty big soap box and can include things like food, shelter and literacy, which means I very likely have stacked my soap boxes on top of each other.  Not a good thing if I ever need to climb down.

Which is exactly what I’m doing this week.  I am finally getting off my soap box and doing something about the things I believe in.


This could be my biggest soap box issue and likely stems from Eldest’s struggles with dyslexia.  It could also be from watching adults settle into a life of poverty and crime because they never reached their potential due to their own struggles with reading.  Or, it’s possible that my desire for a literate world is due to the fact that I’m a writer and firmly believe that everyone deserves the pleasure of escaping into a good book.

Regardless of why, I have a big literacy soap box.

 A Few Horrifying Facts

  • Libraries recycle their books that they unshelve or that don’t sell at book sale fundraisers.  Last year, my local library recycled three pallets of books.  Recycled, not recirculated.  As in trashed.  Never to be read again.  Wasted.
  • Books are expensive.  Yeah, I know.  Even discounted books cost more money than some people have.  In some ways, reading is a luxury.  A rich person’s hobby.  Don’t believe me?  Consider this choice: feed your kids or buy a book?  How about this one: pay rent or buy a book?  Read a book or take a shower?  Jeans or words?
  • Go to the library, you say?  Well, a lot of families living pay check to pay check work when the library is open.  And when they are not working, they are raising children–which includes grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and homework.  Not to mention, not all towns have libraries.  And not all people have reliable transportation.  And public transit costs money.
  • Illiteracy is symptomatic and genetic.  Okay, not 100% true, but if Mom doesn’t read and there are no books in the house, what are the chances that Junior will read?  If Dad is functionally illiterate and can’t read a bedtime story to Junior, there is no positive behavior for Junior to model.  Literacy, or the lack thereof, is a vicious cycle.
  • Poverty and crime are linked to literacy levels.  Pages of statistics support this.  I would like pagest of statistics to celebrate the success of communities sharing literacy, instead.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.  Because I’m getting off my soap box.  Right now.  I’ve finally put my brains to good use and said, “Self, who has the least access to books?”

To which I answered, “People who can’t afford them.”

And where will I most likely find people who can’t afford to read?  At the food shelf.  If you can’t buy milk, you sure as heck can’t buy a book.

So, how did I get off my soap box?  I spoke with the director of our local food shelf about putting a bookshelf in their building.  I have a gorgeous oak bookcase that has nowhere to reside in my home.  It will look stunning filled with free books.

Additionally, I have boxes of books in my basement that I’ll never read again.  Hardcover and paper back alike.  Romance, mystery, thrillers, poetry, memoirs, westerns, YAs, middle grade, adult…all just sitting there in darkness.  Over the next few months, I will cull them and rebox them to take to the food shelf.  When people come in, they can add some brain food to their bags.

I’ve also talked with our librarian.  After our annual book sale, the remaining, gently-used books will also grace the shelves in the food shelf.  If–if–our food shelf can relocate to a spot big enough to house these books.  But that’s a whole ‘nother soap box and one I’ll be looking into.  If the food shelf fails to be a viable option due to financial/space issues, I have an alternative in mind.

So, dear readers, is literacy a soap box issue for you?  If so, how do you actively address this need?  Share your tips with other like-minded folks.  If you haven’t considered being actively involved until now, what ideas do you have to get off your soap box and make a difference? 

What do you think of the food shelf literacy program?  If you’re willing to contact all the right people and get one started in your area, give us a shout out in the comments.  We’d love to cheer you on!

My challenge for the week: if you are passionate about something, don’t just talk about it.  Get off your soap box and do something.



16 responses to “Get Off Your Soap Box: Literacy

  1. I’ll get involved – as soon as my launch party is paid for, my second novel is complete and off to the agent, and DOSF pays itself back. In the meantime, my proposal (and this is only half tongue-in-cheek) for improving literacy is to require all aspiring self-publishers to pass a simple proofreading, grammar, punctuation and spelling test before they can upload their ebook.

    • I know, Pete. So much to do, so little time.

      And I happen to agree with you on the self-pubbed books. It’s hard to read a book riddled with mistakes like that, because once I start noticing typos, I no longer focus on the story itself.

      Best luck getting all your to-do items off your list!

  2. Child welfare and literacy are important causes to me, too. I love your idea of adding the free books at the food shelf.

    Libraries were very important to me as a child, and then later in life. But you’re right about how there are still barriers for the impoverished.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas.

    • The barriers are far greater than the average person realizes.

      I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing my soap box issues. In a world with so many hurts, it’s hard to prioritize what we passionate enough to be active in from the things we simply feel passionate about.


  3. hey , awesome idea with the food book shelf! literacy isn’t an issue for me per se, it’s a little broader than that. anyways, a friend just started a tutoring non-profit, and we’re going to try to org a few of us from our church to do tutoring at a boys group home in 2 weeks.

    • What a great way share your love of writing and literature! Those boys will be blessed to have you in their lives.

      Thanks so much for acting on your passions!

  4. That’s a fantastic solution to the fate of library books! That’s what happens to the ones from the library where I work…book sale, or trash. It apparently “costs too much” to transport them to a place where people would still legitimately enjoy them, like the nursing homes or shelters around here. Also, people who want to donate don’t appreciate that we neither want nor need things like, Stenography books from the 1940’s, and that we have to pay to get rid of them.

    The lack of interest in actual books fluctuates in the people I see. A lot of little kids are voracious readers, and some teens, with a good population of adults (20’s-90’s) rounding out the reading population. Many people , though, sign up for the computers, use the bathrooms, and check out DVD’s. If that.

    That said, my library is open 9-9, Monday through Thursday, 9-5:30 on Friday, and 9-4 on Saturday. Others in the area do not have hours that are anywhere near as good, but the library isn’t necessarily 9-5.

    • Jennifer, thanks so much for weighing in on this. It’s so awesome to see the other side of the book issue. Receiving worthless books that libraries have to dump doesn’t help anyone, but is a wide-spread problem.

      Thanks for bringing attention to this matter so we can gently remind people that sometimes trash is nothing more than trash!


  5. Cat, this is amazing and inspiring! I hope it works out.

    Pete – you know… that’s not such a bad idea haha.

  6. Brilliant idea! I usually donate our books to our women in crisis center or to a school for fundraising – but I like this idea too! 🙂

    • Jemi, those are great places and I’ve considered them. However, we don’t have crisis centers close at hand and our local foster homes are rarely utilized to the point of making an impact with the sheer number of books I have. And I guess I understand all too well that our community would be best served by having access to these books, rather than taking one more resource and sending it to the big cities. I selfishly wanted to keep this local.

      I didn’t doubt for a moment that you were active in promoting literacy and access to literature through donating. You are amazing all the way around.

  7. Great points about literary being a family trait. It’s very true. I can easily attest that my students who read inspire their younger siblings to read. Even if mom and dad don’t , we cant start a good trend by giving the older sib the right book… there’s a trickle down effect.

    A link you will find interesting:

    • Thanks for the awesome link, BBC. Also, thanks for weiging in on the trickle down effect. Anytime we can get someone interested in reading, we have the opportunity to excite interest in others.


  8. Cat, I’ve been so busy that I just read this for the first time, and woman, I love you! This is such a wonderful idea that I’m going to contact the local Family Resource Center and find out if they have books with their food and clothes. I don’t know why I never thought of it, but I’m so glad you did!!!!

    Also, let me share with you this cool link of people who are getting books to homeless people:

    So far my relationship with literacy has been volunteering for my public library, but I’m very excited about some opportunities that are appearing for me to work with a few different libraries that cater to gay youth and the poorer members of society. It’s exciting and wonderful, and I love seeing other awesome people getting involved in this kind of work too. So thanks for being fantastic.

    • You are too wonderful, and I know everyone you work with appreciates the fabulous way you stand behind your passions. Literacy is such a huge issue and part of it is simply getting books into the right hands.

      Everyone I’ve talked to about the foodshelf bookshelves has been enthusiastic about it. After al, what better place to reach your target audience, if you will.

      Hugs and continue being the wonderful, giving person you are!

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