The Manchester Bookmobile Hits the Streets

Bringing free books to Manchester's kids

Kids choosing their books at a recent Manchester Bookmobile session. Kids of all ages are encouraged to attend.

On a sunny morning in downtown Manchester in front of City Hall, a group of about 30 kids sits quietly on towels and blankets listening to a story. As soon as the final words are read, the volunteer, a local teacher, asks if would they like to hear another story or do they want to go get their own books. An immediate chorus of “our own books!” is followed by a sprint to the nearby tables filled with everything from board books to young adult novels

Enthusiasm for reading is exactly what Wendy Perron hopes the new Manchester Bookmobile will encourage in local kids. If this recent morning is any indication, she’s off to a good start.

Perron agrees. At the bookmobile’s debut on July 9, she was heartened by the number of kids who showed up – from babies with older siblings all the way up to high schoolers – and by the support shown from parents. All told, about 80 kids took home books on the very first day.

Perron, who oversees the city schools’ English Language Learner program, came up with the idea for the bookmobile – something that’s been on her mind since she was a graduate student at UNH. In the summer of 2002, her chosen work-study assignment was with the city school district’s bookmobile. Sixteen years later, she’s back on the road with a vanload of books.

“My head is still spinning,” says Perron of the early success. She tried to get the bookmobile up and running last summer, but things just didn’t come together. This year, she says, pieces seemed to fall into place. The van was donated by Granite State Plumbing and Heating, and its bright new wrap proclaiming “Manchester is driven to read” was donated by Sousa Signs. The Manchester City librarians are a huge part of the bookmobile, from sorting book donations (“more than they could handle, which has been heartening” says Perron), to volunteering their time at bookmobile stops. In June, Perron learned that the US Education Department approved a $40,000 grant to help stock the van.

From left: Wendy Perron, Manchester School District director of English language instruction; Karyn Isleb, Manchester City Library head of children's services; and Mayor Joyce Craig at the Manchester Bookmobile's ribbon cutting

“The takeaway, for me, is how simple it’s been." Pause. "Well, sort of,” she laughs. “The van was donated, the books were donated, and it’s volunteers – teachers, etc., everyone pitching in a little time. It’s kind of simple but will have a big impact.”

It might not sound like handing out books is that big of a deal, but research shows that reading during the summer – both reading to kids and independent reading – is  important. Kids who don’t read during vacation are much more likely to fall behind those that do. It’s also important that kids be allowed to choose their own books. But access to books isn’t guaranteed for all children, especially at-risk and lower-income kids who might not be able to afford their own books or have someone to take them to the library.

In addition to offering books, sessions also include read-a-louds.

And so the bookmobile will bring the books to them. Perron has tried to identify spots around the city where the van can do the most good. Through August 10, the bookmobile will offer two sessions every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.-3 p.m. in locations around the city, including Livingston Park, the Beech Street School, Kelley Falls, Steven’s Park, Elmwood Gardens and the YMCA. A complete schedule can be found here. The bookmobile is staffed by MSD educators, city librarians and other volunteers from the community, and it’s about more than fostering a love for reading. In addition to books, the van is stocked with resources for parents, such as math kits provided by City Year, which are fun activities and games that encourage math learning. And like the morning in front of City Hall, the sessions will include read-a-louds in addition to other activities. Most importantly, every kid who attends can choose a book to keep. The city librarians have categorized books by age group, making it easy for kids to find books they’ll enjoy.

All Manchester children are welcome at the bookmobile and are encouraged to come more than once – they can exchange books for new ones should they want to, but that’s not required.

Though book donations were initially somewhat overwhelming, says Perron, more are indeed welcome. If you’d like to donate to the bookmobile, you can bring books (in very good condition) to the library.

The van is hopefully step one, says Perron. In future years she would like an even bigger bookmobile filled with, yes, books, but also even more resources for kids and parents. Still, seeing a group of kids excited about books – proudly showing off their choices, sitting with their noses in the pages – is a great start. Just that one, special book can spark a lifelong love of reading. This summer, hundreds of kids will get that chance. And that's a very good thing.

Categories: Features