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Landon Meie

Landon Meier, a kindergartner in Elizabeth Gulden’s class at Gordon L. Willson Elementary School, looks at books Feb. 14 during library time.

Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss!

The famed author’s 115th birthday is on March 2, and here is how to celebrate: Read and help others know the gift of literacy.

The National Education Association has the right idea in recognizing this milestone as Read Across America Day, an annual nationwide reading celebration. On this day, schools, libraries, and community centers promote reading for all ages. It is time that businesses step up to advocate for literacy too.

We all can agree that a literate population is important not only for our country, but also for our local community because the cost of illiteracy is too high to ignore:

• Of adults with the lowest literacy levels, 43 percent live in poverty.

• Individuals at the lowest literacy and numeracy levels have a higher rate of unemployment and earn lower wages than the national average.

• Low literacy costs the U.S. at least $225 billion each year in nonproductivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment.

Low literacy levels may arguably impact our youth even more deeply:

• 34 percent of children entering kindergarten lack the basic language skills needed to learn how to read.

• 65 percent of fourth-graders read at or below the basic level.

• By 3 years of age, there is a 30-million-word gap in the number of words spoken to children from the wealthiest and poorest families.

• 61 percent of low-income families do not have any age-appropriate books for their kids at home.

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• Children growing up in homes without books are on average three years behind children in homes with lots of books.

These astounding facts lead to the natural question: What can each of us do to help lower the illiteracy rate in this country?

One of the easiest ways you can help is to give children books. Having access to engaging stories —even just one book — can make a difference in the life of a child. And for those who can, donating many books to an organization that delivers them to those in need will make a difference.

To take it a step further, look at the potential of starting a Little Free Library in a part of our community that needs one. Did you know LFL is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization headquartered in Hudson, Wisconsin? This organization aims to inspire a love of reading, to build community, and to spark creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges not only in the U.S., but also around the world. A perfect and easy thing to do on March 2 is to add a book (or 2!) to a Little Free Library.

I hope you, your family, and your business will consider joining me in helping to spread the joy and wonder of literacy — let’s get precious and life-changing books in the hands of more children!

Rose Molz is president of the Madison-based EZ Office Products.

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