Libraries Cultivating Communities of Compassion

Our Center for the Book, under the confident and enthusiastic leadership of Rebekah Manley, is launching today the second Read Across Texas effort entitled, “Know Your Neighbor: Cultivating Communities of Compassion.” This program will feature four books – a novel, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman; a non-fiction book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle; a picture book, Dreamers by Yuyi Morales; and a graphic novel, The Strange by Jérôme Ruillier — to explore the themes of civility, compassion, and community engagement.

When Rebekah asked me to write a letter to Texas libraries encouraging participation in Read Across Texas, I readily agreed and wrote the letter below. I think it is so important in this era where there are such profound divisions in our country to offer libraries as a place of social healing, community cohesion, and civic engagement. Libraries are uniquely positioned to be the safe place for conversations about shared values and we hope that these books will provide starting points for those interactions. Sometimes that interaction might be tense, emotional, or even painful, but it is so important that we start the process and that libraries be front and center in that effort.

Rebekah and our great communications team have launched a rich and helpful page on our website with much information about how to access free sets of the books for your library and resource materials for leading the discussions at

Here is my letter to the state. I hope you will participate and I look forward to hearing about your successes.



Dear Texas Library Colleagues,

I am very pleased to introduce Know Your Neighbor: Cultivating Communities of Compassion, the 2019 theme for Read Across Texas, a project of the Texas Center for the Book. We intend for this exciting project, which suggests four profoundly moving books in each of four genres, to provide the basis for a series of community conversations about how to encourage civility, compassion, and stronger communities.

We hear much nowadays about the divisions in our society that keep people from coming together and interacting as neighbors and fellow citizens. Libraries are key elements of a social infrastructure that provide a valuable place for social engagement and interaction. The titles we are encouraging communities to read in this year’s statewide reading program explore ideas of how to overcome our divisions and connect with our neighbors on a sustaining, human level.

I have read all four books and I can personally recommend all of them. Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle is a sometimes hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking memoir of his work helping gang members in Los Angeles to gain employable skills—and the best book on compassion I’ve ever read. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Bachman is a heartwarming and funny story about how people are so much more than our first impressions. The Strange, a graphic novel by Jérôme Ruiller, uses animal-like figures to explore the plight of strangers in a strange land. And Dreamers by Yuyi Morales is an award-winning picture book in which an immigrant mother and her son find a welcoming and enriching place in their local public library.

I hope you will consider participating in Know Your Neighbor: Cultivating Communities of Compassion to use these books to bring your community together in a discussion of our shared values as Texans and Americans. Our Center for the Book Coordinator Rebekah Manley will be providing book sets, made possible by our Friends of Libraries & Archives of Texas, to as many libraries as possible as well as a toolkit including questions that you can use to spark quality discussions. Please visit to apply for books and peruse the resources.

Thank you for what you already do to cultivate compassionate communities. I look forward to hearing your success stories as you participate in this worthwhile program.

Mark Smith
State Librarian