In the past three years, HB Reads has taken participants' minds around the world — to Afghanistan, Alaska and Sudan — but this year, it also will give them another language to express their thoughts.
To mirror the subject matter in "Barefoot Heart" and expand the program to a wider audience, organizers have scheduled two bilingual discussions of Elva Trevino Hart's story of growing up as the youngest daughter of a Mexican migrant family in America.
Amy Crepeau, the literacy coordinator at the Oak View Branch Library, said the book already appears to be a hit in the mostly Latino neighborhood. More than 50 parents in the library's Family Literacy Program have borrowed the book to read with their tutors, and she expects at least a few of them to show up for the discussions at the library Feb. 28 and March 9.
"I think probably because it's a story of an immigrant family, it makes it interesting," Crepeau said. "And obviously, the parents are from Mexico, and a lot of our students are from Mexico originally. And it's a fun story. It's well written, and I think it's accessible."
Among other additions to HB Reads is the program's kickoff event Monday: a discussion at the Michael E. Rodgers Seniors' Center, which marks the first time the program has hosted an event geared specifically to seniors. And the Huntington Beach Art Walk in February and March will feature high school students' artwork related to the book's themes.
Program founder Fred Provencher said HB Reads has grown steadily since 2008, when it began with a few book discussions and little else.
"People take on new projects," he said. "There's always something new for the following year. And thus far, each project we've taken on has been successful."
Provencher launched HB Reads in partnership with the Human Relations Task Force, a city-backed coalition that formed in the 1990s after a spate of high-profile hate crimes in Huntington Beach. The Huntington Beach Public Library assumed oversight of the program this year from the task force.
The program's first three selections spotlighted a blighted or oppressed community in some part of the world: Afghanistan — Greg Mortenson's "Three Cups of Tea"; rural Alaska — George Guthridge's "The Kids from Nowhere"; and Sudan — "They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky" by three of the war-torn country's "Lost Boys." Provencher said Hart's memoir, the first HB Reads selection by a female author, illustrates a life of poverty but also the difficulties of being a young woman in a male-dominated culture.
Because the events are targeted at all ages, the HB Reads committee works in a few lighthearted activities. The second event, Feb. 10 at the Huntington Beach Central Library, will be an art workshop in which children paint maracas made of water bottles and beans.
LeRoy Lucian, coordinator of HB Reads' art events, made another contribution to this year's festivities. An art collector in his spare time, Lucian filled a display case at the Central Library with Mexican artwork, including several pieces made in a small northern village and three ceramics that date from pre-Columbian times.
The pieces, he said, wouldn't go for much at an auction, but they were perfect to illustrate the diversity of Mexican culture.
"For me, this is the value of it," he said. "If you can use it as an educational tool, for me, that actually gives it a value."
If You Go
What: Book discussion on "Barefoot Heart"
Where: Michael E. Rodgers Seniors' Center, 1718 Orange Ave., Huntington Beach
When: 12:30 p.m. Monday
Information: (714) 497-3237 or http://www.hbreads.org