Harris County Public Library

We will create a Living Library at Finnigan Park Community Center, located in Houston’s 5th Ward. Finnigan Park serves as a safe, after-school space for children from four neighborhood schools. The staff provide assistance with homework, hot meals, and organized sports. By partnering with Harris County Public Library, they will be able to offer engaging and meaningful literacy enrichment as well.

Harris County Public Library will buy, build, and organize a Living Library collection for Finnigan Park. Collections can often fade into the background. Good books remain on shelves, never reaching kids who might love and need them. In order to ensure that the books we purchase will be used and loved by the kids, we will create a sustainable reading program that utilizes the collection of books. In this way, the library comes alive, building a culture of reading as it does.

The Living Library will be a collection of 400 hand-picked, high-interest, age-appropriate books for K-3rd grade children. It will include picture books, early readers, juvenile nonfiction, and early chapter books. Many of the books will be above the independent reading level of the K-3rd grade children, meant to be read aloud to them by someone older so that they can access the stories and build their background knowledge, vocabulary, and love of books. We will create a Book Buddies program that trains the 6th – 12th grade tweens and teens at Finnigan Park in best practices around reading aloud to K-3rd grade children. Each older child will be matched with a younger child. The Buddies will meet two to four times a week (depending on whether the program occurs during the school year or the summer) for 30 minute reading sessions.

We will purchase colorful rugs and comfortable bean bag chairs where the Buddies can read. By creating access to high-quality and compelling books, a comfortable reading environment, set-aside time for reading, and a program that focuses on providing a positive one-on-one reading experience, the K-3rd grade students will develop a love for reading.

We would like to purchase 30 eReaders to add to the Living Library so that kids can access books even when the child isn’t in the current Book Buddies session. Each of the eReaders is pre-loaded with 10-12 interactive stories, which read aloud to the children just like an older teen or adult would. It allows children to read independently even if they are struggling or reluctant readers, and cannot access the Living Library books on their own.

We are focusing on K-3rd grade children because research shows that 3rd grade is a pivotal point in a child’s reading life. Children who are not reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade are four times more likely to not graduate from high school on time. According to the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation’s Blueprint for Community Action, 24% of Houston’s 3rd grade students performed at an unsatisfactory level on the STAAR reading assessment. Schools are working to intervene with programs of their own. The two elementary schools near Finnigan Park (Charles Atherton Elementary and Nathaniel Q. Henderson Elementary) are part of Houston’s Independent School District, which uses a structured, leveled, guided reading program to help students stay on grade level. Most books students encounter in schools are leveled readers, and they are instructed to select books only in their level; this narrow view of literacy often turns kids off of reading. Book Buddies will complement this approach by providing a positive and pleasurable reading experience for children. It offers literacy that is rooted in access to good books, genuine choice, and joyful sharing. It balances out the restrictive and academic-oriented literacy that young children experience in schools, and it is exactly what they need to develop a lifelong love of reading.

When children develop a love for reading, deep and meaningful literacy follows. Nathaniel Q. Henderson, where the majority of Finnigan Park’s elementary school children come from, is a Title I school, with 93% of their students coming from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. During the 2014-15 school year, only 51% of their students read at a satisfactory level on the STAAR state reading test by the end of 3rd grade. The Book Buddies program will reach these students during the very important years of literacy development, having a powerful and profound impact on the rest of their lives.