UHD E-Book Library Bridging Language, Literacy Barriers
By Mike Emery
Illustrated storybooks have long proven to be an effective tool in helping children learn to read. Authors and educators agree that the right combination of text and illustrations contribute to the development of children’s language skills. Likewise, books with meaningful, familiar content also helps develop students’ reading comprehension.
At the University of Houston-Downtown, an ongoing initiative has been helping young English Language Learners and their families learn to read in both English and Spanish. UHD’s E-Book Library has offered free online children’s books (with audio narration) in both languages for more than a decade. The texts are written and illustrated by Urban Education students in UHD’s College of Public Service. Leading this project is Dr. Maria Bhattacharjee, associate professor of Urban Education.
“The UHD E-Book Library is a very important resource to support the reading education of young Hispanic children in our community,” she said. “Having access to storybooks that are culturally meaningful to them is critical to becoming successful readers.”
This semester, Dr. Bhattacharjee guided students in her Children’s Literature in Spanish class as they developed 30 children’s E-Books written in both English and Spanish. Her class worked with Pre-K students at Houston’s Energized for Excellence Academy Inc. in developing these texts. Soon, the finished books will be showcased at UHD.
On Dec. 3, the University will host the E-Book Exhibit. This event will take place from 5 to 7 p.m in UHD’s Welcome Center. Bhattacharjee’s students will be on hand to meet Energized students and their parents and to discuss their books.
Among the students who will be in attendance are Maria S. Garcia and Graciela Benitez, the creative team behind the E-Book “Why Can’t I Take My Pet to School?” or “¿Por qué no puedo llevar a mi mascota a la escuela?.” Garcia composed the text and delivered the audio narration for the online book, and Benitez provided the illustrations.” It is dedicated to two Energized students, who provided the inspiration for its theme.
“We met with students who wanted the book to be about pets,” Garcia said.
Both Garcia and Benitez visited Energized Academy to meet students and learn what topics interested them. After selecting the subject of pets, they collaborated on creating English and Spanish versions of the book. The project was not only an exercise in literacy education, it taught both students about the collaborative process.
“We learned from each other every step of the way,” Garcia said.
“And we shared ideas on what would work best for the book and what children would like to see in it,” Benitez added.
Both Garcia and Benitez agree that the E-Book project is helping them prepare for careers as educators.
“It’s helping us work with children in developing their fluency,” Garcia said. “And, it helps both Graciela and myself understand how to incorporate technology into teaching. We can actually create books for our own students when we’re teaching … and maybe even teach students how to make their own books.”
This is the third year Bhattacharjee’s students have collaborated with Energized for Excellence Academy Inc. on this project. Students received assistance from retired UHD faculty member and English as a Second Language (ESL) expert Susan Paige. Likewise, Energized faculty members Dalia Rodriguez and Santa Grimaldo provided assistance by incorporating the E-Books into lesson plans.
Other Houston-area students and teachers benefit from the E-Book Library, including those at Crockett Elementary School (the project’s original partner). According to Bhattacharjee, it is used as a resource for that institution’s reading classes and will be used for an initiative focused on parents next semester.
“The UHD E-Book Library is very beneficial to families,” Bhattacharjee said. “Many Hispanic parents do not know how to effectively read and write in Spanish or English and are not able to support their children’s literacy development. This resource helps parents participate in their children’s literacy growth.”
The E-Book Library project is supported by a grant from UHD’s Center for Community Engagement & Service Learning. Additional support is provided by UHD’s Information Technology Department and Dr. Irene Chen, professor of Urban Education. College of Public Service Dean, Dr. Jonathan Schwartz is providing funding for the Dec. 3 Book Exhibit.
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.