Are Book Vending Machines the New Book Mobiles?

Kids choose a book from a custom book vending machine

Take a closer look at this image. Those kids aren’t lining up for candy or soda. They’re making book selections.

I guess it started with vending machines selling snacks and sodas. Then we saw creative vending machines selling healthy stuff or electronics at the airport, then Redbox came out with DVD rentals. Heck, just yesterday I had a vending machine make a milkshake for me at the Busy Bee rest stop along I-10 on my way home from Jacksonville.

Book vending machine in Ft Lauderdale, Florida
Book vending machine in Ft Lauderdale, Florida. Credit: Jesus Aranguren/AP Images for JetBlue

Now some creative folks are taking that concept to the realm of education: A vending machine for children’s books.

I don’t write about most of the random stuff that hits my inbox, but this struck me as fairly interesting (maybe because I just bought that milkshake from a vending machine).

A recent study by an NYU professor, and sponsored by JetBlue, shows that these children’s book vending machines, which dispense free books to kids, are actually making a difference when paired with an adult who can inspire the child and help create an environment for learning.

I’m glad they included that adult part. I think that’s critical. I’ve got three kids of my own whom we’ve started teaching to read. Our oldest is still in pre-k, but I can’t imagine he’d do much reading on his own in the early years without some encouragement from me and my wife.

Researchers tested it out in four low-income neighborhoods in Washington D.C. and Detroit, places defined as “book deserts,” because the children in those areas don’t have ready access to children’s books.

It reminds me of the book mobiles that used to drive around my neighborhood when I was a kid. These machines essentially fill the same purpose of bringing quality children’s books to places they’re needed most.

Ft. Lauderdale child pulls book from book vending machine
Ft. Lauderdale child pulls book from book vending machine. Credit: Jesus Aranguren/AP Images for JetBlue

I know there’s so much available online, but there’s nothing quite like holding a book in your hands and flipping through the pages. Especially children’s books with their colorful illustrations. Call me old-school, but I’m not sure tapping a screen will ever be able to fully replace that experience. I guess that’s why I find this idea so, um, novel. Perhaps this is the next generation’s answer to the book mobile.

In the meantime, we’re facing staggering reading rates among our children, particularly those from lower-income communities. Nationwide, just over a third of all students are reading on grade level. In Florida it’s slightly better, but not much.

Reading skills are a foundation for learning. Florida education officials have said that prior to fourth grade, students learn to read. But after fourth grade they’re reading to learn. If they don’t have solid literacy skills, they’ll struggle.

I don’t know if this book vending idea will continue to expand, but even if it doesn’t I hope we can encourage and empower more parents (and other adults) to be that mindful adult children need to help them build the foundations for a successful education.

What do you think?


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