Many Australians grow up without a single book in the house. Consequently, in some areas of the country, literacy levels are shockingly low. 

Despite this, children love to read, said Kim Kingston, who is the general manager of not-for-profit organisation Books in Homes Australia. “Children love to be engaged in the reading process. They just need access to books.”

The Charitable Foundation for Books in Homes Australia is run in communities throughout Australia, from Sydney on the east coast to the Kimberley region on the west. The program allows budding readers to select books for themselves and take them home.

“We have 20,000 children on the program across 200 communities nationally,” Kim said. “Were distributing about 80,000 books-of-choice per term.”

The program differs from other literacy initiatives in its commitment to letting students choose – and keep – books. “Its terribly important that they choose the book,” Kim said. “We all like to be given the opportunity to choose our destiny, and being able to choose which books you might like to own is no different. To receive a brand new possession is very powerful.”

Immersing homes in books sends a clear message to children that it’s cool to read and succeed. This has had a flow-on effect that encourages adults to get reading too. “Were showing adults how to read with their children, and for toddlers, that’s the beginning of the reading process,” said Kim. “In some remote communities, books have not been a priority and as a result, literacy is very low. This is changing.”

Coke Gets With the Program

A recent grant from the Coca-Cola Australia Foundation enabled the organisation to continue a program in Queensland. “There are a number of students who started their high school journey without the reading levels they required,” said Kim. “This new funding has given these students an opportunity to boost their reading skills in the high school environment, at the same time keeping up with their peers.”

The program’s results are impressive. In the five years the Books in Homes 0-3 Program has been running in the Northern Territory, participation has improved by 25 percent each term.

“There was a remote community school in the Pilbara where the children werent reading,” said Kim. “But theyre now reading at levels above National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy benchmarks. Its having access to the Books in Homes program, but it’s also the passion with which the program is being delivered by the staff on the ground.” 

According to Kim, the whole community engagement project is opening up new horizons for participants. “People realise that if they want to be successful, then they need to be able to read,” she said. "And now they can do it with a smile on their face.”