Reading and books are how we learn about the world. At any age, reading is proven to be beneficial for us, helping us learn about other perspectives, improve our memory and sleep patterns, relieve stress, and overall become better human beings, especially for kids. However, there are still so many communities around the world that live in “book deserts,” or areas where books and other reading materials are hard to come by, especially without some form of transportation or adequate funding for local schools. Forty five percent of children in the U.S. alone live in book deserts, which are often doubly affected by poverty and government book bans, in a study conducted by the American Federation of Teachers. Last week, Eva Longoria, whose own hometown of San Antonio, Texas is considered a book desert, announced that she would be partnering with the juice company Mott’s and Penguin Random House to address this scarcity through the Mott’s Snacks & Stories program.
“This project is special to me, because I am a voracious reader, and I feel that accessibility to books and diverse storytelling is so important,” Longoria said, according to NBC News. “It was a no-brainer for me to get on board, especially with my intense desire for our community to have access to different books and also to be reflected back through them.”
As part of the initiative, communities in cities including San Antonio, Houston, Kansas City, and Chicago will receive vouchers for 16 free books in exchange for a purchase of Mott’s fruit snacks, as well as access to a traveling mobile library bus and read-alongs. And not only will kids be able to access books but the selection they’ll receive will be curated to be diverse, equitable, and representative of the kids receiving them. Studies have found that the publishing industry is seriously lacking in diversity in its staff—8 percent as of 2023—and those low numbers carry to the books they publish as well. Last year, only 10 percent of books were written by a Latinx author, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin. Additionally, Latinx and Black children have fewer books in their homes than white, multi-racial, Asian or children of other racial backgrounds, a 2019 Scholastic report found. The program is doing the work to directly address those inequities and make sure kids in need see themselves reflected in the pages of the books they read.
“It’s important not only to have access to these books but to different cultures and communities, to see all these characters’ different skin color and voice. Our being reflected in stories educates other people about us, and it also educates us about ourselves,” Longoria added. “At this time in our country more than ever we need this bus and a hundred more like it to go around and give that access to these families.”
Longoria has long advocated for reading throughout her career, adapting many Latinx-authored books to the big and small screens like Sal & Gabi Break the Universe and House of the Spirits. Though she didn’t curate the diverse list of books that will be available in the mobile library, she’s stated that many of them are already in her personal home library. Some of these books include De Colores and Other Latin American Folksongs for Children by José-Luis Orozco, My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, Coquí in the City by Nomar Perez, What Can You Do With a Paleta? by Carmen Tafolla, and Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto. The effect of this will have an impact for generations with children who can now be exposed to reading and stories that affirm their own experiences and identity.