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Millions are about to have access to free e-books. Thanks, Obama.

Major publishers came together to make more than $250 million in books available for free.

Millions are about to have access to free e-books. Thanks, Obama.

What was your favorite book growing up?

Was it a classic like "The Secret Garden," "The Phantom Tollbooth," or "Stuart Little"? Or maybe something with a bit of mystery like "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" or something from the "Hardy Boys" series? Or maybe it was something else altogether.

Most of us can probably think back to our childhoods and remember a book or two that fueled a love of reading and a thirst for knowledge — a book with near-magical qualities, a book that quite literally changed your life.


Photo by US Army Africa/Flickr.

But did you know that growing up in a house with lots of books can give you a major advantage in life?

That's what a study conducted by the University of Nevada in 2014 found. The more books kids have at home, the better they'll do in school. This rang true across across gender, class, and even country. Those with the fewest books — typically children from low-income families — benefitted the most per additional book added to the home. The books don't even have to be children's books. If you grew up in a household where your parents had lots and lots of books on their shelves, that's enough to give you an advantage.

"Regardless of how many books the family already has, each addition to the home library helps children do better" in school, the study says. "Each additional book has a greater impact on the performance of someone who had only a small home library than it does on the performance of someone from a home overflowing with books."

With this in mind, a new program is looking to make books more accessible to children and their families than ever before.

Photo by George Redgrave/Flickr.

More than $250 million worth of e-books are soon going to be available to kids in need — for free.

And these aren't just any titles. A handful of major publishers have signed on to the program, so these are thousands of popular, award-winning books handpicked by the Digital Public Library of America's Curation Corps.

It's part of President Obama's ConnectED initiative to bring broadband Internet and educational materials to kids around the country. The New York Public Library agreed to take on the task of creating a special e-reader for this new program.

It's called Open eBooks, and it's going to make a big difference in the lives of children and families who can't afford to stock their shelves with lots of books.

The Open eBooks app interface. Images from the New York Public Library/Apple App Store.

First lady Michelle Obama posted a video to the White House's YouTube page announcing Open eBooks' launch last week.

GIFs via The White House/YouTube.

For children with access to the app, it'll be like having a library in the palm of their hands.

Access to the app's library will be provided by a child's school, local library, after-school program, or from other programs aimed at kids in need.

Visually, the app is a lot like other e-reader apps such as Amazon Kindle or iBooks. The big difference is that the book selection is aimed at children in kindergarten through 12th grade and that all the books are free to borrow.

An example of one of the books. Images from the New York Public Library/Apple App Store.

Some barriers remain — for example, what about kids from families who don't own tablets or smartphones? — but that gap is closing.

A recent study found that 85% of families living below the poverty line with children between the ages of 6 and 13 have a tablet or smartphone. One goal of the ConnectED initiative is making it easier for children to borrow these devices from schools or local libraries, as well as gaining access to Wi-Fi.

Do physical books no longer matter? Of course they do. Open eBooks isn't meant to completely replace physical books, but rather to complement them. It's just another building block helping level the playing field between kids who come from houses stocked full of books and kids whose parents can't otherwise afford to keep books and reading material on their shelves.

It's ensuring a future in which all kids can experience that same magical feeling you felt when you read your favorite book as a kid.

You can learn more about Open eBooks at the program's website, and you can watch Michelle Obama's launch announcement below.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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