In some cases, they do not partake because the books are barred from them. Well-meaning (and sometimes not-so-well-meaning) adults underestimate the ability of readers to separate the world of the book from their own world. Or they overestimate the influence of books on behavior. They worry that because a book contains language that most polite folks do not use in public, that if it is in a book grants kids license to use it. They fear that books about the "other" might mean kids develop empathy. They are afraid that if someone does drugs or engages in sex within the pages of the book, readers will think that this is okay. That is playing out right now in Texas, in Highland Park, where letters of permission are needed for classics such as Huck Finn and The Scarlet Letter (and where contemporary books are being removed from lists right and left despite push back). And I will not even dive into CCSS and how it has acted as a limiting factor when it comes to books (well, not in this post, but there will be one coming soon, I am sure).
In other cases, books are not available due to funding. School libraries are left without a librarian; there is no funding for classroom libraries and little monies for collection development in the school library. I met a librarian this past week who covers more than a dozen campuses because the librarian positions at those campuses was eliminated. In many of these instances, the school library is the only source for books for young readers. There is no extra money for books in the home; public libraries are too distant and require transportation efforts often beyond what parents can provide.
As I head off to NCTE and ALAN, I am acutely aware of this starvation: readers who are withering because there are not books for them, books that might sustain them and help them grow. I will return from the conference with a suitcase packed with books (or I will be mailing a ton of them). They will float on to other hands as soon as they are read. But I am a trifle embarrassed by these riches. Yesterday, I put the final touches in place for our department's new review center. We have transformed one of our offices into a review library with shelves from wall to wall and all around the perimeter. A spreadsheet has been developed so that the student workers can enter information on the books that will soon go onto the shelves. We will have one section of YA ARCs (donated by moi and Karin Perry), one section for picture books (donated by moi, too). ARCs will be divided into fiction, nonfiction, and other (you know there will be books not comfortable in either division). By the first week of December, the center will be ready to receive folks who want to see the wealth, who want to take some time to read the latest books. Eventually, when we weed, those books will go into the hands of our teacher ed candidates.
We need to continue to find ways to share the wealth.