Book Bus makes connections all over the county, putting books in homes and helping kids read

Children throughout the community took home nearly 13,000 books this past summer, a measure of success for Elkhart Public Library’s Book Bus.  

The free books program, which ensures kids have reading material appropriate for their age and skill level, is wrapping up its fourth year of visiting schools, festivals and more.  

“The kids like getting on the bus and picking out a book. … It’s a thrill for them,” says Cynthia Jay, the reading interventionist at Monger Elementary School. 

Cynthia teamed up with the EPL Book Bus for weekly visits in June and July to Monger and the nearby apartment complexes and neighborhoods. 

“It’s so awesome. There were so many kids,” she says. 

The partnership formed when Cynthia joined Monger from Concord schools. Concord had a similar book program, but at Monger she didn’t have the same resources available and turned to EPL for help.  

The library invests in the Book Bus program because a lack of reading material in homes is one of the biggest hurdles to childhood literacy. 

“(Schools) don’t have the same grant money to buy books for kids, so working with the Book Bus is great,” she says. “Kids were bringing their Summer Reading Challenge game boards over, too.” 

The Book Bus appeared at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair and community events led by the local chapter of Indiana Black Expo, Heart City Health and the Minority Health Coalition. The Bus staff also planned pop-up events to bring services into the community. 

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“The library coming to the people is a great thing. I think that having that in the city of Elkhart, and in the community as a whole, is something that we can all really appreciate,” says Robert Taylor, vice chairman for the Northern Region of the Indiana Black Expo. “Especially when we see African Americans in the school system and the numbers, the African American kids are reading at a lower level. I think that having the Book Bus out at our events and other public events is a great thing.” 

The Book Bus was a hit at Minority Health Coalition’s Health Fair and Back to School event in August. 

“When you look at Elkhart County and narrow it down to the city of Elkhart, it’s important to have opportunities for childhood literacy,” says Tara Morris, executive director for Minority Health Coalition. “The children took advantage of it. A free gift of a book is reason for enthusiasm.” 

Robert says the Book Bus allows for children to get exposed to the library in a different way, as well as spend time together as a family. 

“I see the kids coming out of the bus with the books and smiles on their faces, from what I have seen it allows for parents to spend spontaneous time with their kids,” he says. “I think that it’s a great thing for the community and I’m glad that the library came up with it, so kids who don’t know about the library, can’t get a ride to the library, can get that exposure to the library.” 

Community stops help with more than just getting books in the hands of students. It gives teachers like Cynthia a chance to check in on students over the summer and helps fight summer learning loss. 

“There is a lot of summer reading loss and they’re not reading enough. This way, they get books that they can keep and continue that reading,” she says. 

With school back underway, she says she sees the difference with the kids she saw picking out books over the summer. 

“A few kids, I was really surprised by their growth over the summer,” she says. They’re getting real books. I’m all into technology, but they still need books. A lot of kids just don’t have books at home.” 

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Plans are underway to continue improving the Book Bus and put more books into the homes of children in the coming years. 

“The library does great work and it can be challenging at times. We are so glad for what (the library) has done in the past and continue to do in the future,” says Tara.