Key Research & Insights on Diverse Books, Reading Scores, and More in 2023 

Naomi Suyat is a First Book Marketing and Communications Assistant. She recently graduated from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

First Book is a nonprofit social enterprise dedicated to supporting educators and students by providing brand-new, high-quality books and additional resources tailored to meet the needs of today’s educators. Since 1992, First Book has distributed over 225 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income backgrounds. We support over one-third of the estimated 1.3 million classrooms and programs in need, reaching an average of 5 million children a year.  At First Book, we remain committed to using our research to inform and enhance our resources and programs. We strive to ensure that every educator and student has the tools to succeed. 

Our growing Network, with over 575,000 individual members serving Title I-eligible schools and programs, is our main audience. To provide essential resources to the communities that require them the most, these educators are working at the front lines. Furthermore, many of the resources we create are openly accessible to people outside the First Book Network. 

2023 Research & Outcomes

Our Research & Insights team conducted 23 surveys in 2023, providing invaluable data to guide our efforts and distribution of resources. These surveys enable us to create impactful tools for the educational landscape while understanding our Network’s evolving needs. Below are some of the main conclusions from our research this past year. Visit the Marketplace to download all free resources.

The Importance of Diverse Books 

Our pilot projects have shown us repeatedly the incredible impact that diverse books have on students’ reading preferences and academic achievement. 

Increased Reading Time: Imagine a classroom where the joy of reading is contagious. With the introduction of diverse books in classrooms, the average collective reading time increased by four hours per week within just five months. By adding about 48 diverse books to each classroom, there was a remarkable boost in student engagement and a love for reading.  

Improved Reading Scores: The results speak for themselves. Our study revealed a significant improvement in reading scores. Teachers reported an average score increase three points above the national average. The most remarkable gains were seen among the lowest-scoring students, highlighting how diverse books can help close the achievement gap. 

Impact of Bilingual and LGBTQ+ Titles: Our research also emphasized the unique benefits of LGBTQ+ and bilingual books. Students showed an average improvement of seven points in reading scores for each bilingual book introduced, and 4.5 points for each LGBTQ+ book. These findings underscore the importance of providing students with diverse books that reflect a wide range of identities and experiences. 

The Negative Impact of Banned Books 

Our surveys also addressed the concerning issue of book bans and challenges faced by educators in our Network. 

Prevalence of Book Bans: One-third of educators reported facing challenges, policy limitations, or book bans. Despite these obstacles, a sizable majority (86%) think that books should rarely or never be banned. This disparity highlights the ongoing struggle teachers face in providing inclusive and diverse books. 

Influence on Teaching and Book Selection: The discussion surrounding banned books is influencing educators’ choices. Although many are not removing books due to book bans, 37% of educators said that the debate affects their teaching strategies, and 46% of educators said it influences their book selections. This implies that fear of censorship is impacting educational practices. 

Empowerment through Banned Books: Teachers have shared countless stories of how their students’ engagement with banned books fostered critical thinking skills and open-mindedness. The significance of these books in developing critical thinking skills and empathy was highlighted by educators. 65% said the banning of books is having a negative impact on their ability to teach. Among the impacts, 71% indicated that book banning undermines educator expertise; 40% feel that book bans contribute to a sense of erasing people and history; and 36% feel that book bans discourage critical thinking. These stories emphasize the need to protect access to diverse books. 

Demand for World Language Books 

Another significant finding from our research was the demand for books in multiple languages. 

Diverse Linguistic Needs: According to our World Languages survey, First Book Network educators and program leaders work with students who speak up to twelve different languages. This diversity necessitates educational materials that cater to the linguistic diversity of the student population. 

Expanding Access in 2024: In response to this demand, First Book plans to increase access to world language books in 2024. This initiative aims to better support the multilingual needs of the children our Network serves and ensure that language barriers do not impede educational opportunities. 

The Future of Research & Insights 

Each year, our research team works with our Network to identify the greatest areas of need for educators and students in low-income communities. With the support of our partners, we diligently survey and create resources that address both current needs and long-standing concerns. New projects roll out annually, and we invite you to explore our past surveys and findings on our dedicated research page