I interviewed Jennifer Frances, the force behind Bess the Book Bus, as well as Bess the Book Bus herself.
Debbie: Tell us a little about how Bess the Book Bus got started.
Jennifer: I started Bess the Book Bus about 8 years ago. I was looking for a volunteer opportunity in Tampa. When I couldn't find a good fit, I started journaling. I was really bummed that I couldn't find a place to volunteer. During one of my 3 am journaling sessions, Bess came to me. I call it the pull of the moon. She came in with her name and everything, She is named after my Nana Bess, who my cousin used to call Nana Bus because he couldn't say Bess.
Debbie: What sort of literacy and outreach work do you and Bess do in the Tampa area?
Jennifer: We do interactive read-alouds at Title 1 schools, shelters, after school programs and Head Starts. Afterwards the kids get to come out and get on the bus where they pick a new book to take home every time. We gave away 66,500 books last year and over 250,000 so far.
Debbie: Wow! Those are some amazing and inspiring statistics! Will Bess the Book Bus be traveling nationally again this year?
Jennifer: We will be leaving for our 44 state six month Success is in Sight tour on April 30th. We are so excited. We will revisit a lot of our kids from 2009 and 2010. We will also visit several new states. We hope to give away 75,000 books this year.
Debbie: Do you have a favorite moment or memory from past years' trips?
Jennifer: Last year in Harlem a little boy who had seen us on TV asked me if I was real. Apparently he thought I was a person in a book lady suit. In LA in 2009 a kid told me that I was going to give a lot of people the book habit. I love traveling and meeting these kids. They are just so wonderful. We travel with Transitions Lenses and VSP as well. It is a joy to see our kids that need new glasses get them at our events. I can't wait for you to see that in Detroit.
Debbie: I'm looking forward to that, too! Jennifer, how can folks help with or support your efforts?
Jennifer: Luckily, Citgo is providing our fuel through their Fueling Good program. We do still need help with food gift cards to feed our volunteers. Any amount helps. We are fortunate enough to have friends to stay with in many areas, but food and lodging are our biggest expenses. We do accept PayPal on our website at www.bessthebookbus.org. We can purchase three new books from First Book for a little over a dollar, so cash donations are a big help too. We are going to need a lot of books in each state. Luckily Townsend Press, Capstone Publishers and Candlewick are helping out a lot. So are our local booksellers. Books from First Book are always great though.
Debbie: Now, some questions for Bess the Book Bus. How many books can you hold?
Bess: We can carry about 3,000 books on the shelves. We often carry back-up of 2,000 with us.
Debbie: How many tires do you have?
Debbie: Any spares?
Debbie: Potholes: aggravation or adventure?
Bess: Both. They can shake books off the shelves causing what I call a bookalanche. It also loosens the shelves, so we try to avoid them.
Debbie: Carwashes: chore or joy?
Debbie: Favorite road to travel on?
Bess: We love to travel. Hwy 101 is great. We don't see that one much. Really any road that takes us to kids is great.
Debbie: Do you ever get bored of traveling?
Bess: We have gone over 30,000 miles and I have not been bored yet. Tired sometimes, but never bored. This is the most exciting thing that I can think of to do.
Debbie: How loud is your horn?
Bess: It is not very loud. A friend of mine wants to give me a train horn. I am also getting a CB! Oh, and AC. I finally get AC this year.
Debbie: Have you ever let the pigeon drive?
Bess: The Pigeon always drives the bus. It is the only bus in the world that he is allowed to drive, and we love having him at the wheel. The kids are always glad to see him. Again, the Pigeon dives the bus, so how could we ever be bored?
Debbie: With the pigeon at the wheel and several thousand books on board, no one could ever be bored!
Jennifer and Bess, thank you so much for being here today. More importantly, thank you for all that you're doing to bring books to kids. Safe travels to you, and I look forward to meeting you in June!
For more information about Bess the Book Bus, click here.
This is the blog of NYT-bestselling children's book author Deborah Diesen.
On this blog, I run weekly profiles of Michigan or Michigan-related authors. Some are authors of books for grown-ups. Others are authors of books for kids. All are part of the great array of writing talent that Michigan has!
My blog also sometimes features bits of original poetry, the occasional workout DVD review, and other assorted odds and ends.
For more information about my books and appearances, my web site is http://www.deborahdiesen.com/ and I can be reached by email at deborah[at]deborahdiesen[dot]com