Reading is more than just the ability to properly identify words on a page. It serves as a gateway for knowledge and understanding about the world around us and its infinite possibilities.
One method Mayor Sylvester Turner, the Mayor’s Office for Adult Literacy and the Houston Public Library are using to encourage adult literacy across the city is the “One Houston, One Book” city wide program. Launched in May, this program promotes literacy, diversity and community conversations by encouraging Houstonians to come together, read, and discuss books with a common theme.
MOAL Director Federico Salas-Isnardi said the program is intentional about making books available to engage individuals reading at various proficiency levels.
“We think it is important to make this citywide initiative as inclusive as possible,” he said. “Literacy and diversity are especially critical for our city. We want those who don’t read often, those who may not own a book, or who may need literacy support to be able to participate in readings and book discussions.”
Literacy in general is a vital component to success in any society. For families to flourish, literacy must be supported by our children through our adults, Salas-Isnardi said.
“An inter-generational literacy event such as One Houston, One Book, that includes the spotlight on the diversity of our communities, provides the opportunity to explore what we have in common as well as our uniqueness,” he explained.
This year’s theme is “Diverse Stories for A Diverse City.” HPL Director Dr. Rhea Brown-Lawson said the program features three award-winning book selections: one for children, one novel for teens and one memoir for adults.
This year’s selected books are:
- “The Name Jar,” by Yangsook Choi for readers ages 5-9 years old. The story is about Unhei, a young girl from South Korea who moves to the U.S. with her family and tries to choose a new name to better fit in with her new classmates.
- “Punching in the Air,” by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam for teen readers. The book is about a young Black teen who is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit and tries to find refuge in art. The book is semi-autobiographical for Salaam, who was arrested with four other teens and imprisoned at age 15 as part of the “Central Park jogger” case in 1989. The young men’s sentences were overturned in 2002, and they are now known as “The Exonerated Five.”
- “Once I Was You: A Memoir,” by Maria Hinojosa for adult readers. Hinojosa shares her experiences growing up Mexican on the city of Chicago’s South Side and shares how she and her family dealt with rhetoric about immigration and attitudes about outsiders.
"There are also exciting titles available for adults on every reading level,” she said. “We will host a wide array of programs and events throughout the summer, such as block parties, author talks, crafts, critical conversations and read ins.”
“One Houston, One Book is our way of celebrating the city’s diversity,” Lawson said.
Salas-Isnardi said One Houston, One Book is more than just about reading books. Participants could form a stronger bond with adult education providing agencies, strengthen family engagement and build discussion skills that will help strengthen literacy in the home, as well as skills that are needed to gain employment and enrich community participation, he said.
“We support our adult education providers in building basic reading skills for their learners and introducing them to book discussions and the resources available through our partner, the Houston Public Library,” Salas-Isnardi added.
Turner said he was pleased MOAL was taking the lead on the campaign so that “adults on various reading level could participate.”
Salas-Isnardi said he hopes this initiative will help create strong readers. “Strong readers can read and analyze different types of texts. The contribution of reading in improving learning outcomes has been demonstrated in various research studies,” he said. “Reading involves not just understanding the meaning of the words but also grasping the multi-layered meaning behind the text.”
He also said reading diverse books exposes people to different cultures, perspectives, and experiences, helping people become more empathetic and understanding of others.
“We expect people to gain confidence and get more connected to their own culture by seeing themselves reflected in these books,” Salas-Isnardi said. “Diverse books can open people's minds to new possibilities and help them see the world in a new way.”
“One Houston, One Book” will run through Sept. 30.