The dreaded summer slide—when kids lose valuable reading skills over the three months they’re away from school—is feared by librarians and teachers alike. Jenny Granger, a school librarian at Emerson Elementary School in Snohomish, Washington, decided that if her kids weren’t going to come to the books this summer, she would take her books to the kids—with a bookmobile.
Using grant funding from the Snohomish Education Foundation, Granger converted a school bus into a bookmobile and took to the road, driving it to trailer parks and other low-income areas where the books she provides are crucial. She caught up with SLJ to talk about the things she’s accomplished, what the future holds in store, and just how her bookmobile, called the Snohomish Book Café, obtained its signature pink eyelashes.
How does the bookmobile work?
The books are for the students to keep or return. If they love the book, they can keep it. If it was just a one-time read, they can then return it for someone else to read. The goal is to get books into the homes, [because] research is telling us that the reason some kids from poverty don’t read is because they don’t own books.
Some people have commented, “Isn’t that what the public library is for?” But our reality is that these students simply do not go to the public library. Whether it’s because of transportation or because of having to fill out paperwork (which then leaves a paper trail) or because the family does not see the value of the public library, I don’t know. But I do know that most of our kids do not have a public library card.
Did you design the bookmobile?
This bookmobile has been a collaborative effort. My special education teacher, Dave Martinson, and his assistants, Bibi Penland and Michelle Somerville, somehow snuck out and painted the tire rims and running boards on the bus when I was busy with students. It was a total surprise! They looked amazing! And my assistant secretary, Penny Kendrick, secretly ordered pink eyelashes for the bus. They are darling!
In terms of [the original] “design,” yes, I guess I did design it. I kept everything in a fairly neutral color scheme with book pages, burlap, and chalkboards. I knew I didn’t want it to be too cutesy in terms of primary colors or book characters, because I did not want to scare away my older students. If this was a “little kid’’ thing, they wouldn’t come near it. That hasn’t been an issue. I cannot seem to keep enough copies of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton, 2012) stocked for our YA readers.
How do you decide what books to stock?
My goal is to stock it with what kids will read. I do not push anything other than simply reading for reading’s sake. Do you want to read creepy vampire stories? Go for it! Teen romance novels? They are yours! Dirt bike magazines? Go for it!
We have everything from board books to picture books to chapter books to graphic novels, young adult books, and magazines. A lot depends on what is donated, and I spent the grant money on high-interest things that kids want like the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” (Abrams) books and the “I Survived” (Scholastic) series. If they will read it, I will try to get it for them. With the recent World Cup, we went through soccer books like they were water.
How do you decide what routes to take?
I knew some of the places I wanted to hit because I knew the families in our community that were in need. And I knew that the mobile meal program was hitting the areas of high need. When I originally wrote the grant two years ago, I had only students from my school and our feeder schools (both primary school and middle school) in mind. But at the last minute, one of the teachers in our district approached me and asked if I would consider going to another trailer park on the other end of town. This trailer park was very isolated and very in need of books. How could I say no? So each week, I drive the bus to two trailer parks, our local aquatics center, which is in the middle of town, and the Boys & Girls Club. All of these locations receive lunches as well from the summer meals program.
Do you do readers advisory with the kids?
Absolutely! And I think that is part of the key to the success. As I come across books in all of the donation piles, I add sticky notes with [children’s] names on it and give [the books] to them the next week. It helps that three of my four stops are neighborhoods of my own students, so I know them by name and what they are interested in reading. This is my second year getting to know the students at a trailer park that go to a different elementary school, and I am becoming familiar with their needs and wants as well.
Is there anything you want to change about the project in the future?
In a perfect world, I would love this to become a Title program. [Reading and literacy expert] Richard Allington’s work examines the impact of summer reading on student achievement, and one of the points he makes is the fact that Title programs have shown an impact on achievement nine months of the school year. But what about the other three months? Spending the funding to help support a child’s language development year round could lead to a significant increase in academic achievement. The funding during the summer months would not be pushing an academic agenda…it would be creating an environment that fosters reading and language development. That, to me, is an important distinction.
How is the bus running?
Hmmm, air conditioning on the bus would be lovely.