|Seated on the entrance to the Snohomish Book Cafe Bus, Osmar Mendez, 2, looks at picture books during one of the converted school bus's weekly stops at the Three Rivers mobile home park in Snohomish. Ian Terry/The Herald|
Jenny Granger is delivering books to kids around Snohomish to beat the “summer slide.” Between tests in June and September, there's a general drop in students' scores. Granger says a big factor is the fact kids don't read as much during the summer.
“We can complain about it or we can do something about it,” said Granger, a teacher and librarian at Snohomish's Emerson Elementary.
She has turned an old yellow school bus into a roving bookmobile. Now she's spending her summer break bringing the library to kids in trailer parks and to places with activities for children.
“These kids are coming from very needy households and they don't have a lot of books at home,” Granger said.
The rolling Book Cafe makes four stops on Tuesdays that coincide with the times and locations of subsidized summer lunch programs. Granger encourages kids to get on board and pick out books.
“I just get out of the way and let them go,” Granger said.
She pulls into to the Circle H trailer park, where more than a dozen barefoot and flip-flop-clad children stand awaiting her arrival. Several run up and give her hugs.
“The kids love it,” Granger said. “It's like hero status.”
Leslie Hernandez, who just finished fifth grade at Emerson, said she found a book she previously borrowed but had to return before she finished it. She was excited to read the rest of the story.
“I love to get new books,” she said. “I don't like reading books twice.”
The kids can take as many titles as they can read in a week. They can hold onto the books or bring them back.
“If they love them, keep them,” Granger said. “The commitment is to read them.”
Inside the bus, the books are shelved in wooden boxes similar to those in a record store. That way kids can see the illustrations on the front as they sort through titles.
“I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover but kids are very graphic,” Granger said.
She made the bus look cartoonish with a set of hot pink eyelashes over the headlights.
Granger volunteers her time for the bookmobile. The school district allowed her to use the bus, which was about to be surplused. Snohomish Education Foundation gave her $5,000 to retrofit the bus, buy supplies and pay for gas. People around town have also pitched in thousands of books.
“This whole thing was Jenny's vision,” said Kristin Foley, a spokeswoman for the district. “It's been her passion and her dream.”
Granger started trying to get students to read more over the summer three years ago. She opened the library for a few hours each week during the break.
“It was great for the kids who came, but they weren't the ones we were worried about,” Granger said.
Last year, she tried the traveling approach in a red van from the 1970s. But more volunteer labor was needed to lug tubs of books in and out at each stop.
“We sweated and died in the heat,” Granger said. “There had to be a better way. It's a little crazy that this is what I'm doing with my day off.”
While the food program goes to areas determined by the federal government, the bookmobile could include more stops in the future.
“It doesn't matter where you live. Some families just don't read,” said Misha Dacy, a librarian at Seattle Hill Elementary.
Granger's next mission is to have ebooks available. She has a plan in the works that will allow kids to download to their devices from inside the bus. She's not sure when the technology will arrive but she is expecting it soon.
“It's an awkward conversation because people say if kids can't afford books then why do they have devices,” she said. “Well, the reality is they do.”
The bus started making its rounds in late June. Granger said interest is strong. She's had to stop her route halfway through to restock books.
“What this bus has done for our community is tremendous,” said Foley, the district spokeswoman. “The kids are so excited. It's heartwarming.”