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News NC author partners with Macon County News for literacy initiative

Dr. Gloria Houston is an internationally known teacher, author and lecturer. Although her book Littlejim is considered fiction, the characters are modeled after her relatives. Photo by Diane Gainforth, PhotographerThe community-wide initiative, Read2Me, which is geared toward promoting early literacy for children throughout the county, is teaming up with North Carolina author, Gloria Houston, to bring her book Littlejm to the pages of Macon County's free independent newspaper, the Macon County News.

Read2Me is a public awareness campaign geared towards encouraging the community at large to become highly invested in promoting children learning to read early in order to help all children realize their potential in school and in life.

Dr. Gloria Houston is internationally known as an educator and author of multi-award winning, best selling books for young readers, as well as a writer of textbook and other teaching materials.

However, she typifies herself as “first, last and always, a teacher.”

According to Houston, as a former teacher and advocate of early literacy, she was eager to work with Read2Me. “Literacy skills are among the most important skills any human can develop for success in school and survival in the modern world--no matter where a person lives,” said Houston. “I am, to quote a colleague, “a teacher who writes, not a writer who teaches. . .” My adult life has been spent helping people of all ages to develop these skills. Working to develop literacy skills with students is one of my most important missions in life if I am, in the words of my mother, Ruthie, who turned 98 on March 9,” to leave the world a better place than I found it.” I think that all parents and grandparents share that mission.”

Houston's book is centered around twelve-year-old Littlejim, a bookish boy living in a rural Appalachain North Carolina community in the early years of the twentieth century. While living through World War I, Littlejim finds himself being one of the best students in his school and a tremendous help around his farm home, but continuously finds himself struggling with gaining the acceptance of his father, Bigjim. Littlejim enters a newspaper essay contest which he hopes will help him gain the respect of his stern father.

The MCN has worked with Houston and Bright Mountain Publishing to acquire serialization rights to LittleJim. To help promote the Read2Me initiative, the MCN will publish chapters from Houston's book each week in hopes of providing Macon County parents with free, easy access to a book that they can read to their children.

[ click here to read chapters 1-7 of Littlejim ]

Houston noted that a key component to encouraging early literacy is parent involvement, and that early literacy is a gateway to success later on in life. “All the data from researchers who study the assets which help children to find success in school and to be able to do what they want in life demonstrate that children who are read to become readers,” she said. “Reading is a set of skills which get better with practice, so any child must practice to become a better reader. And, the best role models to influence a child to read and read and read is to share a story, narrative or information book with a loving parent.”

According to Houston, she remembers being read to as a child and even said that she remembers learning to read her very first words while her parents read to her out of a newspaper. “I know that being read to influenced me greatly,” said Houston. “I remember learning to read my first word. It was “look.” For a long time, any word with two O's together was “look.” Then it became clear that other words had the same middle letters. I learned to read my first words sitting on the lap of one parent or another while they read the Asheville Citizen-Times each morning.”

During her childhood Houston's parents stayed very busy with work, but regardless of what they had planned for the day, they always took time to read to her each morning. “They ran a country store so they were very busy, but they read the newspaper every day. It was a time when each of them held me on a lap and read the news to me. Soon I realized that the marks were the words they were reading, so they helped me to sound out simple words in the captions under photographs,” said Houston. “I could not wait to get to school to learn what all the other words in that newspaper were. My teen aunt often read stories to me after her school day, and that made me even more eager to read, so I could learn what the stories were for myself.”

Although Littlejim is fiction, the characters are modeled after Houston's family members. “Littlejim was the only book set in the southern Appalachian Mountains I intended to write. So I included every cultural detail I could get from my parents, particularly from my dad, who was Littlejim, a boy who could not please his stern, hard father,” explained Houston. “I've since learned that this is a problem worldwide. I have letters from children and adults in Australia and other countries, as well as in the US, who have had similar problems.”

When writing the book, Houston was able to learn details of her heritage and hopes that as families read the book, they will be afforded the same opportunity. “My grandfather, Bigjim, was a logger in a timbering family who lived on a self sustaining farm, producing almost everything they needed themselves, so the experiences of my father's family were those of many mountain families into fairly recent times,” she said.” The shared details about the culture, how food was grown, preserved, and cooked, as well as many other details are those of many parent, grandparents, and of some children who live in the region.

The book has been enjoyed by many residents of the mountains, and, to my delight, has prompted the sharing of family history and heritage between generations who share the book. I hope that the book will create an atmosphere in which families will share their experiences while sharing the book!”

Houston has been involved in several programs with similar goals to Read2Me throughout Western North Carolina and hopes that by teaming with the newspaper to publish Littlejim, it will start a chain reaction which will branch off to families continuing to read to their children. “I've been involved in many such projects in the region and in the other areas where I've lived and visited as an author and educator,” said Houston. “Sharing a book within a family, a community, a school or a church can engender rich conversations among readers and listeners, and, best of all, one book often creates the interest and desire to share another book. There are three published books about Littlejim and his family, with one as yet unpublished. So I hope that readers will go on to share other books, many books, not only the Littlejim books.”

About the author

With a Bachelor’s Degree from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, and following years of work in public and private schools in grades k-12 in North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas and Florida, Houston was awarded a Master’s Degree and Ph. D. in interdisciplinary studies by the University of South Florida, Tampa.

At USF, she held an appointed Author-in-Residence position. There, Houston was the founding coordinator of Suncoast Young Authors Conference, one of more than fifty young writers conferences she has implemented nationally, including one at Mayland Community College for Avery, Mitchell, and Yancey Counties in North Carolina. She also founded the USF Young Writers Camp and the USF Center for the Study of Child Writing.

Houston is designated as a Distinguished Educator by the International Reading Association, an honor which included two invited chapters in Distinguished Educators on Reading: Contributions that Have Shaped Effective Literacy Education, published only once each decade. After serving as a member of the norming team for the Essay portion of the SAT test, she served on a task force to create the Florida End of Grade Tests for the Humanities and Language Arts, and in North Carolina, she served on the committee to write the Curriculum for the Language Arts/Writing for Grades k- 12. She also supervised and taught remedial English state-wide for students who failed the CLAST writing test, a prerequisite for students entering their junior years in all all Florida state-supported universities.

Houston won the National Excellence in Literacy Education award for her writing curriculum “Tell Me a Story” for IBM Educational Systems, where she supervised judging for 65,000 pieces of writing gathered nationally from students grades k-12 and was then appointed to a national Blue Ribbon Committee to evaluate the effectiveness of IBM’s Writing to Write Curriculum. Appointed to write the support paper for their “Writing to Write” program, distributed internationally, which involved examining all the research data in writing pedagogy to that time, she served as educational spokesperson for IBM Educational Systems for the media and at educational conferences internationally.

Appalachian State has named Houston a Distinguished Alumni and a member of the Rhododendron Society, for her contributions to education. In 2005, she was selected as keynote speaker for the dedication of the new ASU Belk LIbrary Complex and more recently for the endowed Carole Belk Lectureship. She was also appointed as the Stevenson Lecturer at Lees- McRae College in 2011. The Grandfather Highland Games appointed her as Distinguished Author for the 2011 Games.

As an author of critically acclaimed novels and picture books for young readers, Houston's books have won and been listed on more than forty awards and awards lists,with one international award.

The Littlejim books have won numerous awards. Littlejim’s Dreams (Harcourt, 1998) won the Silver medal from School Librarians International. One of the novels, Littlejim, the children's selection as the focus novel for the 2008 regional BIG READ project was re-released in 2008 by Bright Mountain Books, given new life by demands in social studies classrooms throughout the nation. Adapted as a musical by Jason Rhyne, 2008 winner of the Jonathan Larson Award and the Richard Rogers Award for playwriting in musical theatre, Littlejim as premiered by the Mesa, Arizona, Performing Arts Center. Negotiations for productions by theatre groups in the region are currently underway.

During more than 25 years presenting workshops and lectures at conferences internationally, nationally and regionally as an author, writing teacher, literature, creative drama and planning/writing consultant, Houston has served as author-in-schools, keynote speaker, and as a consultant in school systems throughout the nation.

Houston has also been writing and planning consultant to national and international businesses and corporations. This summer, she will lead writing workshops and writing methods workshops at Mayland Community College and lead one course for Lees- McRae, as yet undecided. Watch her webpage for announcements. Houston's writing textbook/handbook for teachers’ desks, How Writing Works: Imposing Organizational Structure within the Writing Process (Allyn and Bacon/Longman, 2003) has been a best seller to budding writers as well as to teachers and future teachers.

Appalachian State University recently requested her manuscripts and papers to be housed in their Special Collections. Both the Kerlin Collection at the University of Minnesota and the University of South Florida have also requested her papers, but Dr. Houston agreed that her major papers should be available to scholars through ASU because of its location and its sensitivity to the southern Appalachian culture. Selected papers will be housed at the University of South Florida.

Currently, Houston lives in Western North Carolina. Working on several projects with Appalachian State University, Lees-McRae College, Mayland Community College, the Avery Mitchell Yancey Madison Library System, and regional school systems, and by offering her training and experience to regional institutions, as her health permits, will finally allow Houston to bring some of her ideas, successfully implemented throughout the nation and the world, to her home region as she planned to do when she returned here to live.


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