AP NEWS

Curiosity Cruiser brings books to kids in need

May 21, 2018

It’s a great day for kids when the Curiosity Cruiser rolls into their community. A mobile library, the Curiosity Cruiser is a joint effort between the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and the Harris County Public Library to boost literacy and access to books for kids.

The Curiosity Cruiser brings books and other activities to kids in kindergarten through eighth grade. The cruiser travels to schools, community centers, parks, gyms, daycare centers and more.

According to Julie Baker Finck, president for the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, Members of the Ladies for Literacy Guild within the foundation wanted to provide more economically disadvantaged children in Houston access to books in their homes and rich learning experiences beyond school walls.

“They were disheartened that many school libraries have collections that are out of date and no librarian leading them. In addition, they recognized that low-income families face barriers to visiting a brick-and-mortar public libraries,” Baker Finck said.

The foundation and the library collaborated and fundraised money to design the Curiosity Cruiser, which is a custom-made library on wheels, complete with its own two reading superheroes, Owlbotron and Northtale.

Owlbotron was a struggling student and was even bullied by his peers. When he meets Northtale, a very smart librarian, she guides him to reach his potential through introduction to a special book.

“Owlbotron discovered that through the power of a book, he can change the world. Now the two are a team that travel in and around the city to give children the power of reading,” Brian Kehinde, Mobile Outreach Specialist for the Curiosity Cruiser, said.

For approximately an hour to ninety minutes, the Cruiser Team conducts fun, engaging, age-tailored storytime activities. Owlbotron and Northtale are onboard regularly.

“It’s a state of the art vehicle, similar to a science lab, where children can tinker with 3-D Printers and experiment with robotics,” Lisa Blackwell, Mobile Outreach Specialist for the Curiosity Cruiser said.

The Cruiser programs provide children a wide variety of fun, hands-on activities that promote, enhance and emphasize STREAM-related activities: Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art and Math. Some program examples include LEGO robotics, learning about circuits with Makey activities, or creating individual art work or writing.

“We vary the activities based on the location we are visiting. We read books with the children and use activities to explore their creativity,” Linda Stevens, division manager of Programs, Partnerships and Outreach, Harris County Public Library said.

“Kids and adults are excited when they see the Curiosity Cruiser. They’ve never seen anything like it before. Many children select a book, sit down and begin perusing or reading the book immediately. Every time this happens, we recognize that our return on investment will be reaped untold times,” Baker Finck said.

Upcoming this summer, the Cruiser is partnering with several apartment communities throughout Houston to bring the Summer Reading Program to residents. They will also be at the Houston Food Bank on June 5 to celebrate the start of their summer Kids Café and at the Parker Williams and Barbara Bush libraries to be part of the summer reading kickoff festivities.

“Harris County has millions of people, so the Cruiser will use every tool it has at its disposal to reach patrons with essential library services,” Edward Melton, Library Director, Harris County Public Library said.

Anyone can request a visit from the Curiosity Cruiser at www.curiositycruiser.com. Priority is given to communities in need and visits are based upon availability.

People can support the Curiosity Cruiser in three ways: by donating new or like-new books during the annual community book drive in March; making a tax-deductible monetary donation at CuriosityCruiser.com; or becoming a member of the Ladies for Literacy Guild at BushHoustonLiteracy.org.

rebecca.hazen@chron.com