Reading books in childhood is essential for cognitive development, encouragement of appropriate socio-emotional behavior, and acquisition of values. It enriches the children’s language and improves their academic achievement. For very young children, the adults in their environment can play a crucial role in this respect. Reading stories to children and reading books together with them has a great influence on their reading habits throughout their lives. Despite the enormous importance of these practices, it appears that the culture of reading is less developed in Arab society in Israel than would be optimal. This is true especially among disadvantaged communities, in which children live below the poverty line and in an unstable environment in which many of them are not registered in early childhood frameworks because of a lack of infrastructure. Reading deprivation at this age in Arab society increases the existing gaps and inequality in Israel.
In recent years, with the aim of strengthening children from these populations and preparing them better for the formal education system, The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute has run a program for fostering the culture of reading to children in three Arab communities in Israel: the northern city of Umm al-Fahm (in conjunction with Al-Qasemi College), East Jerusalem, and the southern town of Hura. The programs take place in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, local authorities, professionals in the field, and local community leaders, and are supported by the Bernard Van Leer Foundation and Bader Philanthropies.