12:01 PM

E-Book Library Bridges Children’s Language, Reading Barriers

Dec. 4 Exhibit Spotlighting Recent Library Additions


By Mike Emery

Reading doesn’t come easily for many students in American classrooms. According to the Children’s Literacy Foundation, 65 percent of fourth graders are not reading at a proficient level. Many of these students are at risk of not graduating from high school.

While adolescents in the U.S. struggle with reading, their challenges are intensified when English is their second language.

Thanks to an innovative initiative led by University of Houston-Downtown professor Dr. Maria Bhattacharjee, children who identify as English Language Leaners have new resources to help them and other family members learn to read in both English and Spanish. For 11 years, she has curated UHD’s E-Book Library, an electronic collection of children’s books created by her Urban Education students.

On Dec. 4 at the E-Book Exhibit, Bhattacharjee along with her students display the books produced this semester. This event takes place from 5 – 7 p.m. in UHD’s Welcome Center. Pre-K students from Energized for Excellence Academy, Inc. and their parents are participating in the event.

Bhattacharjee and her students collaborated with these children to create the books. Throughout the semester, UHD students visited the school to assess the children’s literacy levels and learn about the subjects that interested them. After selecting topics meaningful to the children, UHD students started creating the books, working in pairs with one writing and the other illustrating. Students produced 22 books this semester, 11 in English and 11 in Spanish.

The exhibit spotlights the books and offer visiting Energized students learning activities.

“Children in pre-K through second grade have a hard time finding books that are culturally meaningful to them," Bhattacharjee said. "This is particularly true for Hispanic children whose first language is Spanish. They may be new to our country, so they do not have a firm knowledge of American culture. Reading becomes difficult because they cannot comprehend what they read.”

According to Bhattacharjee, students and parents can use E-Books to learn together.

“Many children’s parents have limited skills reading in both English and Spanish,” she said. “The E-library provides opportunities for them to support their children when their own reading skills are not optimum.”

This project, supported by UHD's Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, ultimately benefits the Urban Education students who authored these texts. These aspiring bilingual teachers, Bhattacharjee said, become better educators through this experience.

“They practice the skills that they need after graduation to teach literacy to elementary children,” she said. “It is job training with real children with the support of a faculty member.”

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.