Books on Bikes by Rebecca Flowers
It’s a warm summer night and you’re hanging out in your neighborhood, riding your bike around with your friends. You hear a loud honking, followed by bell ringing, and people calling out. Kids start yelling, “Books on Bikes is here!” Then, around the corner comes your teacher and your librarian on bicycles. How exciting! They are visiting you in your neighborhood in the middle of the summer. You’ve missed them and didn’t think you’d see them again until the next school year! Why are they here? To give you free books and popsicles of course! That is what Books on Bikes is all about.
Books on Bikes is a literacy outreach program in Charlottesville, Virginia. During the summer, teachers and librarians of Charlottesville City Schools hop on bikes loaded with books and ride to public housing neighborhoods to give out books to children. Our program began as a way to help prevent the “summer slide,” a slip in reading practice over the summer that can set children back in their learning. We not only want to stop the summer slide, but also awaken a love of reading in our students and create excitement about reading. Many of our students live in poverty and do not have books of their own in their homes and cannot access the public library because of transportation or fees owed. We want our students to have access to books when their school libraries are closed so they can continue to grow as readers.
Summer 2016 will be Books on Bikes 4th summer season. We started out small and continue to grow and expand. This summer there will be at least three more Books on Bikes programs making book deliveries in cities across the country. When we started our program, we had the idea and the name Books on Bikes, but we didn’t actually have bicycles that could carry out the job. Did that stop us? Of course not. While raising funds and developing our program we still wanted to visit our students during the summer and give them books. We loaded up a little red wagon and drove to the neighborhoods instead. It was a great way to start. Children were so excited to see us and get free books, and a popsicle treat, that we knew we needed to get bikes in time for the next summer.
During the 2013-2014 school year, we focused on fundraising so we could purchase three cargo bikes. We teamed up with community non-profits and businesses to get help. Blue Wheel Bicycles, a local bike shop, was happy to give us a discount on bikes and Light House Studio, a non-profit that helps kids become filmmakers, was excited to help us create a video for a Kickstarter campaign that would fund our bike purchases. We successfully raised enough money, plus some, to purchase three cargo bikes to make our book deliveries. Our public library’s Friends of the Library provided us with books along with donations from the community. We had a great summer riding bikes and visiting seven public housing neighborhoods in Charlottesville. On average we give out 100 books each trip, along with about 50 freezy pops.
Books on Bikes continues to grow. Through grants, donations, and community support, we added three more cargo bikes to our fleet for summer 2015. One of our Spanish teachers trains therapy dogs and brings them along to help children feel comfortable around dogs and read them stories. During winter break, we bring our students books, coats, hats, and gloves to keep them warm and reading. We presented a session to school librarians from across the country at the American Association of School Librarians Convention in Columbus, OH.
Bringing books to kids was our initial goal, but over time our program has become about relationships, with not only our students and their families, but with the community, too. We begin the summer by seeing many familiar faces, but also some new faces if they are not students at the school where we teach. By the end of the summer we all know each other and have developed a bond over books, reading, and learning. When our students come back to school, especially if they are just starting school, they already know a teacher or librarian in the building. There is a comfort in that. As librarians, we often see many of the students we saw over the summer come back to school and start spending more time in the library. Their time with us and with books was a positive experience over the summer and they know that the library is where they can find us both. They are now readers which was our goal all along. The simple idea of giving kids books has transformed into something that means so much more, to both us the teachers and librarians, and our students.
What we have learned through Books on Bikes is that coming up with a plan to help our students doesn’t have to be complicated. We learned that a simple idea can make a big impact on our student’s lives. We have developed a wonderful connection to our local and school communities. Being teachers and school librarians is hard work all school year, why would we want to keep going through the summer too? We love it! Our team loves spending time together, we have all become cyclists and love riding bikes (even in the very hilly town of Charlottesville), we love seeing our students and they love seeing us, and we know we are making their day brighter by visiting them. Seeing how excited our students get about picking out books they get to keep is all anyone needs to see to know that our program is effective. All you need to get started is a bike (or a wagon), books, and if you really want to be popular, a cooler full of freezy pops. We’d love to help you start a Books on Bikes in your community!
(Download our flyer here for more information: BOOKS_ON_BIKES_COMIC_2015.)
Rebecca Flowers is an elementary school librarian in Charlottesville, VA. She helped start Books on Bikes in 2013 and has been spending her summers on a bicycle with her Books on Bikes team ever since. The past seven years she has worked in an upper elementary school with 5th and 6th graders and next year with be the librarian at a PreK-4 school. With a background in art, Rebecca enjoys incorporating art and creativity into her school library. She enjoys camping in a vintage 1950’s “canned ham” camper and also runs a library for birds backyard bird feeder. She wants everyone, even the birds, to know how much fun reading can be.