As a literacy coach in Michigan's Chesaning Union Schools, Michelle Schroeder was frustrated by her students' lack of access to books all summer long. When schools closed for summer vacation, so too did school libraries. And too many children were unable to use their public library. She found herself wondering, "How can they read? How can children lose their reading skills if they don’t have access to books?" The spark was ignited for the idea of a mobile library. She approached her school board members and the superintendent, and was pleased to discover that the district was retiring a school bus that would be a perfect fit. The district vowed to insure it, maintain it, and fuel it.
The next steps for the Big Rockin' Book Bus truly were a community effort. A
mechanic took out all of the seats and flooring, a local business donated and installed new laminate flooring, and a local cabinet maker custom built shelves. With the vision of the bus covered in Mo Willems' artwork from Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Michelle emailed Willems' editors to explain the project. They generously sent along an art catalog, allowing Michelle to select and customize professional grade art wraps of the lovable Mo Willems' characters. In addition, the bus provides free lunches for students in need.
“In the front of the bus, we have the books facing forward- picture books so that the kids can see the covers. And then in the back of the bus we have shelving for chapter books for our middle school and high school kids. We also put two benches in the middle of the bus- in the front one holds board books. The back one holds adult books, because lots of our parents and grandparents like to visit the bus too and get books. We have little cloth seats over the tires. The kids can curl up on the seats and read to their reading buddies if they like." - Book Bus founder Michelle Schroeder
Michelle has been overwhelmed by the district and community's generosity, explaining, "Every time I would just start running out of money and think- oh I don’t know what I’m going to do now, somebody else would step up or mail a check or offer to help and- and we just kept rolling so." She explains the routine:
"I take the bus out 3 days a week. We go to the very outlying areas of our district and we also get kids from other school districts too - which everyone’s welcome and they loved it too. So, I go out, I park- I’m at different spots for about an hour. The kids get on the bus. They’re more than welcome to take as many books as they’d like. There are no due dates. There are no late fees. Books roll back in all the time. The kids know they can return them to any of the schools and they make it back to me eventually, but the important thing is getting books into their hands. I take it lot of times to our farmers market. We were in the Homecoming parade. We have family movie nights in town that are free for families. So, I take the bus to that- that a lot of times and were just open to whatever comes along that that we can use the bus”
I love doing it. I love seeing the kids. I love driving the bus. I love talking about books with them. So, I don’t know. I know some people have said I can’t believe you do that, but I love it. So, I just keep doing it."- Book Bus founder Michelle Schroeder
The biggest challenge in this entire project? Michelle explains, "I had to train and learn all the parts of a bus and learn how to drive a bus to get my commercial drivers' license. I also had to get my lunch lady certificate to be able to serve the lunches. So, I tease my husband all the time that he’s married to a teacher / bus driver / lunch lady."
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