Parked under the summer sun in front of R. Martinez Elementary School, the bus could be mistaken for the typical mode of transportation seen across the district.
But after a second look, you will spot the bright colors, logos, and artwork that give it away: this isn’t your typical bus. Step inside, and the differences are even more obvious; gone are the seats and center aisle, replaced by Astroturf and hundreds of books for the taking.
This is the Literacy Bus, a partnership between HISD, the Astros Foundation, the Houston Public Library Foundation, and Occidental Petroleum. It’s a mobile interactive unit that encourages reading with the entire family, going to some of the most in-need neighborhoods throughout Houston.
“Getting books into kids’ hands is just essential,” Sally Swanson, Houston Public Library Foundation Executive Director, said. “There are so many parts of Houston that are called book deserts. Kids just don’t have books in the home. We want to make sure that every child in Houston has books to read.”
The newly-redesigned vehicle—a real bus from the HISD fleet—was unveiled at R. Martinez Elementary, a school located in the Denver Harbor neighborhood, one such “book desert.” The Literacy Bus will be taken to neighborhoods, schools, and events across Houston, distributing books for free to students through the fifth grade.
The bus itself is staffed by volunteers, like Elizabeth Awani-Holmes. The retired librarian—who last worked with Patrick Henry Middle School—said that the Literacy Bus gets books directly into the hands of students, meeting them in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods.
“Literacy is my thing. I believe everyone should read,” she said. “Until I go to my maker, I want to make sure that I provide books and support to children, especially in these underserved neighborhoods.”
After a short program and the unveiling of the new design, students from the Summer School program at R. Martinez Elementary —about 200 in total— then took a tour of the bus and walked away with several new books to add to their home libraries. In addition, the Houston Public Library Foundation announced a donation of 500 books to that school’s library.
Talking to the students, Astros Foundation Executive Director Twila Carter reiterated the importance of literacy at a young age.
“You all need to read, read, read. You can go anywhere with a book,” Carter said. “But know the most important part: we will be back. We’ll be back with more books for you. And soon.”